Monday, April 06, 2009

Working Hard To Please - 9 to 5: The Musical - Musical Review

9 to 5: The Musical - Ahmanson Theatre - Los Angeles, CA - ***1/2 (out of 5)
Previews begin at the Marriott Marquis Theatre on Broadway on April 7th, 2009.
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton, Book by Patricia Resnick, Directed by Joe Mantello, Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler

Note: I saw the pre-Broadway tryout back in the fall, but I've been sort of sitting on this review since then, but I thought I'd post my thoughts anyways as the show opens on Broadway tomorrow. However, this review is based on the LA production and changes might have been made since.

Dolly Parton's new musical, based on the old 80's movie she starred in, is, like the movie, a rolicking good time and a girlpower feelgood show that doesn't exactly always make sense, nor does it flow particularly well, but between the stick-it-to-the-man antics and Dolly's music, it sort of doesn't matter because it's so much fun.

Now, I hadn't seen the movie since I was probably a kid, and only rewatched it after I saw the new stage show, but at the time, I couldn't remember the exact plot. So when it unfolds on stage, I was like... THIS IS THE PLOT? Seriously? Because while the general frame of the movie is fun (if not predictable), some of the episodic bits to get us from mean boss and used and abused women in the workplace to the empowerment of 3 particular ladies seems a bit like filler sometimes.

But oh, as long as they keep pumping that "9 to 5" beat, it really doesn't matter. Dolly Parton's infamous tune is seriously infectious and gets the heart beating along with its cadenced rhythm and smartly, Dolly repeats it over the course of the show as the shows main melodic thread, and if you asked me, she probably could have used it a few more times. I couldn't get enough!

While all the other songs are catchy enough, none are quite as irresistible as the title song. There's a few other standouts, like Act 1 finale "Shine Like the Sun", "5 to 9" and "Get Out and Stay Out". Still, some of the middle portions, with it's filler storyline, dragged the show a bit.

Luckily, the show has Andy Blankenbuehler choreographing, and as with In the Heights, his moves somehow put a modern twist into typical Broadway choreography and it's simply AMAZING and the best part of the show. To the point where there's not enough. A lot of it simply happens in the background with the chorus moving about the office space, but Andy's style is simply eye popping and hip in a show that purposely throws back to the 80's era.

What also buoys the creaky original plot for the show are the three outstanding women in the leads. Allison Janney (The West Wing, Juno) as Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin in the movie), Stephanie J. Block (Wicked, The Boy From Oz) as Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda in the movie) and Megan Hilty (Wicked) as Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton in the movie). Each give it their all in three feisty and powerful performances, each continually stealing the show from each other, and their camaraderie bonds the show and the story together.

While Allison Janney doesn't have the most perfect singing voice, she's superb as Violet, the woman who knows how to run the office, even if she doesn't get the credit. Janney is totally great in the role and it's fun to watch her in such a fun role.

Stephanie J. Block continues her ascent on Broadway, with her phenomenal singing voice that can still come from a cautious and timid character, and her growth as Judy, the newbie in the office, has the emotional depth needed to give the show some much needed importance beneath the forthy lightness of the whole piece.

And while Megan Hilty is essentially giving a spot-on rendition of Dolly Parton as Doralee, considering this is Dolly's show, it's pretty much a requirement for the role. And Megan runs with it and takes it beyond mere mimicry.

Marc Kudisch (Assassins, Thoroughly Modern Millie) is a terrifically slimy Franklin Hart Jr., although if there's any fault in his performance, it's that between his superb singing voice and hilarious nasty reactions to the women's antics, there's sort of a sexiness and attraction to Kudisch's Franklin.

Ann Harada (Avenue Q) and Kathy Fitzgerald (above as Roz, Franklin's suck up and office watchdog) aren't given as much to do, but the actresses make what they can with their caricature roles, and still manage to be fun and funny. Particularly Fitzgerald's "5 to 9".

The two main men surrounding Violet's life aren't given that much to do either, but since they are played by Broadway cuties Van Hughes (Saved) as Violet's son, and Andy Karl (above right with Kudisch, Legally Blonde, Altar Boyz) as Joe, Violet's much younger potential love interest, I was happy enough with the results!

In the end, the exuberance of the ensemble dancing to Blankenbuehler's innovative choreography, added with a leading cast of supremely fantastic women, and the genius of Dolly Parton's title song, overcomes the creakiness of the book. It's not a deep show by any means but the strong elements are enough to make it a very pleasing and fun show.

Now the main battle will be to see which of the three women will compete in the leading or featured actress categories and if they will cancel each other out (My bets are on Janney and Block who have more hefty characters, but with Hilty's belt, don't count her out either). The show itself won't beat Billy Elliot for the Best Musical prize, but the show is just fun enough that I think it will run for quite a while.

All photos are from the LA production. Oh, and for So You Think You Can Dance fans, word is that hottie Neil Haskell (Altar Boyz) is joining the cast on Broadway!!!

The main cast of 9 to 5:

Megan Hilty:

Stephanie J. Block:

Allison Janney:

Megan Hilty and Marc Kudisch:

Allison Janney, Megan Hilty, Stephanie J. Block and Kathy Fitzgerald:

Marc Kudisch:
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com

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