Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty, Marc Kudisch, Andy Karl, Kathy Fitzgerald, Ioana Alfonso
music and lyrics by
Is fun enough? I think so. The new Broadway production of 9 to 5 may be feather-light but it’s enjoyable and, crucially, it’s fun.
Everyone in the theatre, both on stage and in the audience, seemed to be having a ball.
One could argue that a show on Broadway should strive for something more, but that would, I feel, be missing the point.
The musical is based on the 1980 movie of the same name which starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, and, wisely, is played as a period piece, set at the end of the 1970s, when men still dominated the workplace.
The story is a revenge fantasy, light on the revenge and heavy on the fantasy, about a sexist boss getting his comeuppance at the hands of his three female employees fed up with his skirt-chasing ways.
Although the sexism angle is dated in places, the patronizing attitude displayed by the management feels timely and gives some of the jokes an unexpected zing. (Yes, it is the kind of show that requires you use the word ‘zing’ when talking about it.)
Allison Janney, still best known to many as the wonderful C.J from The West Wing but also a Broadway veteran, plays Violet, the underappreciated office manager who keeps the workplace humming smoothly. Janney, in the Lily Tomlin role, does an excellent job of maintaining a cool and calming presence while the other cast members go a little frantic. She is well served by Dolly Partons score, which doesnt demand too much from her vocally as she doesn’t have the strongest voice.
Fortunately Megan Hilty and Stephanie Block very ably carry the musical load. Both women have had lead roles in Wicked and have the pipes to prove it. Hilty plays Doralee, Parton’s character in the film, and does her justice. That role, the bombshell with the heart of gold and the handgun, was always going to be the most fun to play. Much as Jane Fonda did when pitched against Parton and Tomlin, Block disappears into the background, bar one killer song rather late in the show.
The cast are ably choreographed by Andy Blankebuehler but the set design, with its massive screen on the rear wall, though at first kitschy fun becomes distracting. Having said that, most of the time it seemed in keeping with the whole 1970s vibe.
It comes as no shock that the plot is paper thin and that Mr. Hart, the office big-shot, is so evil all that he just needs a curl of the moustache (which fortunately he already has) to turn him into Snidely Whiplash. The show drags in several places and stays stubbornly true to the movie even when this is to the detriment of pacing (although it’s nowehere near as bad as Young Frankenstein in this respect).
The comparison to Mel Brooks effort of last season is instructive. Though the song 9 to 5 is ubiquitous, the movie is much less so, and therefore the musical has more room to play with the storylines without having to worry about upsetting fans of the source material. A little variation and invention is a good thing, so is some acknowledement that time has passed; a willingness to tinker is something that is missing in many movie-to-musical adaptations.But while Joe Mantello’s production would have benefitted from some trimming and tightening, it did its job, it made me smile and sent me home happy.