9 To 5: The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
May 7, 2009
Lots of movies have been turned into Broadway musicals in the past decade or so, and most of them have been at least a little bit enjoyable: Cry Baby, The Wedding Singer, Saturday Night Fever, Footloose, Hairspray, and so on.
I did not enjoy 9 To 5: The Musical at all, and I think the main reason why is that, unlike the properties I just named, this is a piece that does not inherently sing. In a musical, there needs to be a good reason for the characters to suddenly burst into song. Sometimes, the music is organic to the story—a wedding singer, for example, naturally sings. But usually, when a musical comedy book and score have been crafted skillfully, the songs reveal character to us or flow naturally from a moment when the emotions reach a point where words just won't cut it anymore.
But in 9 To 5, which has a book by Patricia Resnick (who wrote the screenplay for the film) and a score by Dolly Parton (who needs no introduction), the songs stop the show dead in its tracks, time and time again. The title number, which almost everybody in the audience is going to come into the theatre humming, opens the show and is staged so leadenly and clumsily that I felt my enthusiasm and energy lowering with each overblown chorus. (This sequence includes the guy-in-shorts-with-an-erection moment that will perhaps become the thing 9 To 5: The Musical becomes most notorious for; a serious lapse in taste, I'm afraid.)
Each successive musical number has the effect of halting the story in its tracks. As you probably know, the basic idea of 9 To 5 is that Franklin Hart, the Big Boss at the mega-corporation where the show's three heroines work, is a loutish bully without an iota of respect for his female employees, a guy ripe for a comeuppance. But by the time the revenge fantasy starts to unfold near the end of Act I, we still haven't really learned enough about Hart or the three ladies to justify what's going on. Those darn songs have taken up the time needed to really set up the plot.
I will note here that I did not return for Act II; for the first time since The Graduate, I decided my time was better spent doing almost anything else than seeing what lay ahead in the show at hand. So it's possible that things improve a whole lot in the second half of the show, but I wouldn't count on it. From what I saw, the material is coarse and unworkable, and Joe Mantello's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's highly derivative choreography (knockoffs of Fosse's How to Succeed, mostly) only make it worse.
Marc Kudisch, as Hart, is the one genuine musical comedy star on stage, and he works very hard in a thankless part that (during the sections I saw) required him to do a silly striptease in a bathroom mirror, fall out of his chair repeatedly, get tied up a couple of times, and be suspended from the ceiling on a harness fashioned from a garage door opener.
Allison Janney, who plays Violet (the Lily Tomlin role), is the other genuine star on stage—she's got presence to spare, and she's watchable and even likable in a part that's obviously beneath her talents. She is, alas, not the world's greatest singer.
Stephanie J. Block loses laugh after laugh in the Jane Fonda role. Megan Hilty gets the best material in Act I in the Parton role, and she does it justice, performing what amounts to a tribute to Dolly in songs that feel a little too grossly autobiographically about their creator. Kathy Fitzgerald, as the office manager in love with Hart, is given a number of embarrassing things to do. In fact, it was when she began to perform her big number in the ladies room that I decided I'd seen enough of 9 To 5: The Musical.