Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9 to 5: The Musical @ the Ahmanson Theatre w/ Dolly Parton

Is this because I'm a sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot? - Frank Hart, 9 to 5
My songs are like kids, and as I get older, I want them to support me." - Dolly Parton

My mother was a working gal in the seventies. She hasn't said much about those days, but even now, I think we can safely say that '9 to 5 was the quintessential office movie way before we got 'Office Space'. It was more than a movie about empowerment, more than a satire on the working world, but it became an instant classic, with a message that speaks to every generation of woman (and men) who get to see it.

And you know what? It's also damn funny. Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton were pitch perfect as working girls stuck in unique ruts, brought down by the ultimate man, Frank Hart, the sexist egotistical lying hypocritical bigot.

Needless to say, when I, the ultimate musical theatre junkie and lifelong fan of Dolly Parton, heard that not only was there a musical in the works, but that Dolly Parton was writing the music, Patricia Resnick (the screenplay writer) was writing the book, and Megan Hilty (favorite Glinda ever), Allison Janney, and Stephanie J. Block were in talks to star as Doralee, Violet and Judy respectively, I nearly flipped my lid. Quite publicly. To an almost embarrassing degree.

Luckily, I'm not the only gal thrilled to see this play finally come to fruition. When word got out, I was able to gather quite a little crowd for our September 9th playdate: my mother, my sisters, and my friends. Altogether, we had the back row in the Orchestra section, for what we imagined would be the second week of production.

As the date grew closer, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that production had actually been pushed back, and as luck would have it, our tickets were now falling on opening night. This filled me with a geeky sort of delight, because I've never actually been to an opening night of any really big play. As a Los Angeles girl, most of our theatre comes by way of national tours, small independants or big productions of Broadway Tested Powerhouses ala Wicked. To have 9 to 5 work out their kinks with us before it went to New York was kind of an oddly enthralling honor, and one I didn't expect to have.

The excitement only got grew when we got to our seats and I got a better look at the cast. In addition to the three ladies, there was Andy Karl (aka the UPS guy from Legally Blonde: The Musical), and Ann Harada, the original Christmas Eve from Avenue Q (who I got to see in London, where she re-originated the role). The thing I dared not hope for was a surprise visit from Dolly Parton. It was opening night, a given that she'd be there, but usually those kind of stars stay out of the way on nights like this.
Not Dolly. Five minutes before the show started the audience erupted with a roar, when the original Backwoods Barbie strolled up to the front of the orchrestra, grabbed a mike, and introduced the show. There were a few hiccups left to work out, she informed us, and promised us a few minutes of improv and gabbery if we ended up with an unexpected stall. This got my entire row hoping for technical difficulties almost immediately.

The audience was psyched, the theater was dark, and then the musical started.

Before we go into it, let me just say that we DID have a technical glitch, and as promised, Dolly went up front, grabbed a mike, and proceded to not only gab the hell out of herself, but sing a couple of songs: 9 to 5, and I Will Always Love You. Despite the stage manager's best intentions, cameras were flashing everywhere, and a few lucky people even came video camera prepared:

She was, as usual, amazing, and made a half hour wait for technical bugs to be fixed seemed like a thrilling, special surprise. Her willingness to mingle with the audience and her genuine gratefulness that we were all there was just another reason why the lady is a superstar.

But back to the musical itself:

In a nutshell? Not bad. There definately needs to be some kinks worked out (but that's what these out-of-town previews are for), and the opening 9 to 5 musical number has been tweaked to the point of non-recognition (perhaps it's not the smartest idea to have the musical start with a GUY singing 'tumble out of bed and I stumble through the kitchen'), but once the musical got going? Pure gold.

There was a lot cribbed from the script - most of the one-liners are in there, which can be a catch-22, and the storyline is changed only a bit. What is changed isn't, in my opinion, helping the story much (Violet gets a love interest, Roz becomes more than a flunkie and a full-on stalker), but there's a reason the story is so successful. It just works.

Megan Hilty is PITCH perfect as Doralee - she takes Dolly Parton's inspiration and steps it up a notch, with a flawless voice, and the double D fake boobs to prove it. Her rendition of 'Backwoods Barbie' was showstopping, and she delivers Dolly's quips and sardonic notes with a twang that is so damned sincere you're hardpressed not to believe it's really Dolly, twenty years younger.

Stephanie J. Block, in the 'straight man' Judy role, does what she does well, belts out tunes like nobody's business. Her transformation from lonely divorcee to proud single woman is fun to watch, particularly in her part of the pot-fantasies, where she sassily cha-chas around Frank Hart and then shoots him twice. Her song with her ex-husband (Get Out And Stay Out) was a little .... melodramatic for my tastes, I would have preferred something more joyful and faster in a 'Check out how Awesome I am without You' vein than the somber 'Get out and stay out but everytime you try to leave I'm going to stop you to belt out another angsty chorus' song, but she performed it well.

Out of the three, Allison Janney struggled the most. Not a surprise: she's a film and tv actress, not a musical broadway star. But she's Allison Janney, which means even when she struggles? She's the best. Her range was not what the girls' were and as a result, her slower songs lacked the same punch. This is particularly glaring in her ballad with her love interest Joe, in which they discuss taking a chance on love (Let Love Grow) as if they're discussing who went to the bathroom five minutes ago. Despite that, when she got going, and let the nerves go, she just had a blast. Her number 'One of the guys', in which Violet envisions being CEO of the company and finally joining the boys club, was pure fun, and she was at her best when she was playing ringleader in the musical numbers, such as the 'showing Judy the ropes' number 'Around Here' and silly pot fantasy 'Potion Notion'.

Marc Kudisch (who reminded me a LOT of Billy Campbell), was scene stealing as Franklin Hart. His song Mundania, in which he is literally hanging from the ceilng in padlocks and chains, was hilarious and riveting.

The climax itself was the weakest selling point. It seemed to wrap up TOO quickly, which worked in context for the movie but not so much for the play. The act 1 finale 'Shine Like the Sun' had much more punch, and a much better fade, but that didn't mean that as soon as the curtain closed, I wasn't on my feet whistling and cheering. The show did what it was supposed to do. It made you laugh, it made you stomp your feet, and the actresses, when given the opportunity, really allowed you to channel the excitement of the moment, particularly when they finally hog tie Mr. Hart like you've been wanting them to do since the opening number.

I heartily recommend the show. Since I saw the first showing, you might see a tightened up, tweaked up version, and if that's the case? You're in for a real treat.

1 comment:

  1. i agree with everything you said - i am going again on the 25th - i can't wait!