Photo by Don Kellogg

Friday, October 17, 2008

9 to 5

One of my annual guilty pleasures is a trip to another city to get an advance view of one of the season's out-of-town try outs for the "it" show in the upcoming season.  This year it was flight 1402 to Los Angeles to see Dolly Parton's new musical, 9 to 5,  at the Ahmanson Theatre.  As in the past, I will start this review with the caveat that an out-of-town tryout is just that - a tryout.  It's meant to work out the bugs and kinks; tighten up the show; change songs; kick the tires; change the dialogue and button things up for the eventual Broadway run.   Consider this a "sneak peak" rather than a review.  I want to be fair to the production.

Let's start at the top.  The book was written by the same person who wrote the movie screenplay - Patricia Resnick.  The beloved Dolly Parton wrote all the music and lyrics and Joe Mantello directs.  So  far, so good.   Since we all know the film - Who plays the Dolly Parton role (Doralee Rhodes), the Jane Fonda role (Judy Bernly), and  the Lili Tomlin role (Violet Newstead) you may ask?  At the helm of this new musical production are Megan Hilty (Wicked),  Stephanie J. Block (Wicked, The Pirate Queen) and Allison Janney (A View from  the Bridge, TV's West Wing).  Franklin Hart is played by Mark  Kudisch (The Apple Tree, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Assassins, Thoroughly Modern Millie).  A fine supporting cast is rounded out by Andy Karl as Joe from Accounting (Legally Blonde, Alter Boyz, Slut), Kathy Fitzgerald as Roz 

(Damn Yankees, The Producers) and Ann Harada as Kathy the office-mate (Avenue Q) and my secret favorite, Van Hughes as Josh (Saved, Hairspray).  

Once again, it seems we all know the film (did anyone reading this blog not see it?)  - and this production makes no apologies for taking much of the dialogue direct from the movie to the stage - with much success. As a matter of fact, the entire story is pretty much taken in its entirety with only minor changes needed for an adaptation to the stage.  All you cult followers won't be disappointed.  ("I'll get that gun and I'll change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot"!).   

Musically, who doesn't adore Dolly Parton?  What fun she's often admitted  about writing this show.  The pastiche of musical number she churned out have something for everyone - a little country, a little rock and roll, and a whole lot of Broadway - all of them with a dash of Dolly!

The show runs the standard length - 2 1/2 hours with one intermission.  The dynamic sets on this particular stage (the Ahmanson is a newer, auditorium-like theater) were flown in, pushed up from below, slid in and out from the sides and turned inside out to create an ever 

changing flow to the numerous scenes (the outer office, Mr Hart's office, and his home just to mention a few).  Digital video was used effectively on the rear wall of the stage to convey the city-like atmosphere during several scenes.  I hope this stays.  Thankfully this will  be staged at the Marriott Marquis Theatre in NYC so one would hope that the same inventory could be used for the Broadway run.  

Now, let's talk about the talent.   Megan Hilty has already earned my vote for a Tony nod.  Hands down she steals the show.  She's really playing Dolly, playing Doralee - and she does it to a tee - the voice, the body, the hair, and the mannerisms.   Perfection.   Stephanie J. Block plays her own version of Judy Bernly.   A little more timid, a little more wholesome than perhaps you might remember Jane Fonda playing it.  With a powerhouse voice and the comedic timing she has - it all seems to work.   Now, onto a tough call.  Allison Janney has the comedic timing and delivery of a pro.  But this is a musical.  You have to be able to sing too. Unfortunately that's not something in her box of tricks.

She makes a valiant effort, and really pulls out all  the stops in Act II with One of the Boys, but if this show has any Broadway staying power - she's got to go.   Donna Murphy?  Are you available??  In a show that you can find little wrong with - she sticks out like a sore thumb.   I love her dearly and it pains me to say it -but she's got to go.

The show still takes place circa 1979 - but i have to say the costumes are not as retro as they could be and nobody seems to have the "big hair" that screams 1979.  I see some improvements to be made there.   Again to the modern stage at the Ahmensen - I hope the digital lighting here can be replicated at the Marquis to produce the same dazzling effects (The clapper.  That's all I'm saying).  

As a general note - this show loads of fun.  I see only minor opportunities to "tighten it up". One thing that did irk me was the continual use of the offstage chorus.  Why couldn't they

be on-stage if they were being asked to sing?   In ever thought it would be inappropriate or distracting if they would have been on-stage.  The fact that they were not on stage yet we were hearing them was, however.  At times, it only served to remind me that maybe they were doing this to compensate for Janney.  

I think the buzz is all good.  This production closes on October 19th in LA and previews begin in New York City on April 3rd.   If you see one show this season - make 9 to 5.  It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it!

For those of you who just can't wait - here's a sneak peak: