The 1980 film with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton was an instant hit, and over two decades later the story of three women getting revenge on their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot of a boss still hits a sweet spot. The musical version of 9 to 5 opened April 7th at the 5th Avenue Theatre, and while the show was at times a bit cheesy, the flashback-to-the-80s costume and set, along with stellar performances from the cast, made it work.
The show opens with Dolly herself – not in person, but oh boy, you’ll see her. While I don’t believe her narration was part of the Broadway show, I enjoyed her brief (though admittedly unnecessary) introduction of the cast. Ms. Parton also wrote the tunes, which of course includes a new version of “9 to 5″. The opening number is fantastic – fast paced and with excellent choreography that sets the “office” mood.
Parton’s character Doralee is played by Diana DeGarmo of American Idol fame, who does an outstanding job pulling off that sugary sweet girl you want to hate but just can’t. Her number “Backwoods Barbie” manages to be both funny and touching, without erring to the side of hokey.
Dee Hoty tackles the role of Violet, the whip-smart working woman with the droll sense of humor defined by Lily Tomlin, and takes it down brilliantly. She delivers snappy one-liners you hear coming a mile away, but makes you snicker anyway.
Naive, recently ditched Judy is played by Mamie Parris, who approaches the role in the beginning with the same fluttery nervousness and go get ‘em attitude as Jane Fonda did in the original. Ms. Parris brought down the house with her number “Get Out and Stay Out”, a defining moment that marks the beginning of her life as an independent woman, not to mention shows off a stunning set of pipes.
Joseph Mahowald plays the boss you love to hate with the right amount of arrogance and swagger, and his ode to Doralee early in the first act is hilarious. But the biggest laugh of the night – and honestly, one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in any musical to date – is his lovestruck assistant Roz’s ode to him, played to zany perfection by Kristine Zbornik. Her song “Heart to Hart” didn’t so much draw laughs from the audience as it did hysterical shrieks.
There were a few sound problems opening night; aside from two feedback moments, I felt that some voices and words during ensemble tunes were lost. The range and quality of Violet, Judy and Doralee’s voices are so contrasting that, while each performed admirably during solo moments, the choruses of songs like “Shine Like the Sun” were a bit muddled.
While the flow of the story was a bit jerky and dragged at times, it’s worth seeing if you’re a fan of the film for the nostalgic setting, great choreography, peppy “up” numbers and most of all, the outstanding cast.