BWW Reviews: 9 to 5: The Musical at the Fox Theatre

By: Feb. 11, 2011

The 1980 movie Nine to Five was a pretty big hit when it came out, and one reason is because it touched a nerve with its tale of three secretaries (Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton) who extract revenge from their chauvinistic boss, superbly played by Dabney Coleman, who made a career out of playing the man you love to hate in a number of comedies from that period. And since there are still issues of inequality in the workplace with regards to the salaries and opportunities that are afforded to women (even though there's certainly been some progress made in those areas in the last 30 years), I can see why this material might still seem pertinent enough to launch a stage musical. Even though it runs a bit long, and loses momentum about halfway through, it was obvious to me that most of the audience in attendance found 9 to 5: The Musical to be a very entertaining show. The current production playing the Fox Theatre is served well by a talented and enthusiastic cast that appears to be having a great deal of fun.

For those unfamiliar with the original story, three female co-workers who are fed up with their sexist boss, Franklin Hart, Jr., wind up imprisoning him in his own home. Once he's out of the way, and they've become suitably empowered, they make changes that improve the overall productivity of the business as well as the office atmosphere. But, that's not all there is to the story, and once Hart manages to free himself, you know that he's going to try and do everything in his power to take back his position and undo all the good that these women have managed to accomplish in his absence.

Dee Hoty does fine work as Violet, a long-suffering worker under Hart who's found herself continually neglected when promotions are being handed out. Hoty's comic timing and vocal proficiencies allow a tune like "One of the Boys" to really soar under her guidance. Mamie Parris is also good as Judy, who's been forced back into the workplace after being abandoned by her husband. But, the real gem of a performance comes from former American Idol contestant Diana DeGarmo, who brings her considerable vocal chops and curvy figure to the role of Doralee (played in the movie by Parton). DeGarmo's at her best performing the catchy number "Backwoods Barbie", which is one of the more memorable tunes from the show. Joseph Mahowald is properly villainous as their boss, Hart, but the part is drawn rather broadly and never really develops. The same could be said of Kristine Zbornik's humorous work as Roz, who remains loyal to Hart because of her repressed affections toward him.

Director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun keeps the action clipping along at a fairly brisk pace, with smoothly executed scene changes and energetic dance numbers, but the show itself seems to grind to a bit of a halt after the long first act. Patricia Resnick's book, which she adapted from her own screenplay (which was co-written by director Colin Higgins), really brings nothing new to the table, and you wonder why someone else wasn't brought in to freshen this material up a bit. Parton's music and lyrics are generally well done, but there's really nothing here as undeniably catchy and tuneful as the title song (Parton also makes bookend cameo appearances in video segments that open and close the show). The real stars of this production may be William Ivey Long (costume designer), along with Paul Huntley and Edward J. Wilson (hair designers), who provide the tacky, but memorable accoutrements, which act to firmly establish the late 70's, early 80's period.

While I may have some misgivings about this show overall, it is funny and cute, and it certainly seemed to appeal to the audience I was watching it with, even if some of its themes now seem dated and out of touch with reality.

9 to 5: The Musical continues through February 20, 2011 at the Fox Theatre.

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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