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A crowd-pleasing '9 to 5' arrives on Broadway

By MICHAEL KUCHWARA/AP Drama Critic
April 30, 2009 at 5 p.m.
Updated April 29, 2009 at 11:30 p.m.


NEW YORK (AP) — Durn. You kinda want "9 to 5: The Musical" to be better than it is.

Not that you won't have fun at this stage version of the 1980 feminist revenge comedy that was a hit movie with an impossibly catchy title tune. It's a certified crowd-pleaser.

Dolly Parton, who wrote that persistent little film ditty, has supplied the entire score for the production that opened Thursday at Broadway's Marquis Theatre. You won't mistake Parton's words and music for the works of Stephen Sondheim, yet she has a simple, direct way with lyrics and a beguiling sense of melody whether it's country twang, gospel, rhythm 'n' blues, power ballad or sentimental love song.

But Parton hasn't been served well by her director Joe Mantello, who pushes the musical and book writer Patricia Resnick's overstuffed cartoon of a story at a furious pace. For much of the evening, everything is played in the key of frantic, as if the director were afraid to let the show slow down, catch its breath and let us really get to know the three women who kidnap their sexist pig of a boss.

And when the women are played by a talentedtrio of ladies such as Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty that's a shame.

Janney, the best known of the three because of her television gig on "The West Wing," is a formidable stage veteran although not in musical comedy. No matter. Her sardonic delivery, not her singing voice, is what counts for her role as the overqualified secretary who can't get into the managerial ranks. It's the part played in the movie by Lily Tomlin.

Hilty has the unenviable task of following Parton as perky blond Doralee, the countrified sexpot, who excites the libido of the company's main man, portrayed by Marc Kudisch. The singer also gets to warble a song called "Backwoods Barbie," which probably comes as close as anything in giving Parton's view of a woman who seems to be remarkably like herself.

Best of all is Block, as the neophyte office worker (the Jane Fonda part in the movie), who's newly liberated from her spouse and ready to begin life anew. Block delivers the evening's big anthem: "Get Out and Stay Out," directed at her husband who has dumped her for a 19-year-old. She gets to stop the show all by herself.

And we haven't even gotten to Kudisch, the chauvinistic boss who finds himself at the mercy of the avenging females. His performance is riotously on target, both physically and vocally. Kudisch possesses one of those rich, booming voices that lets you understand every lyric.

He's joined in the villainy department by the comic Kathy Fitzgerald, his loyal factotum who carries a serious crush for her boss.

Resnick's book is pretty faithful to her original screenplay, maybe too faithful in its cluttered attempt to make sure none of the movie's fans will feel cheated by having something from the film missing from the stage version. Yet a surprising number of the jokes misfire.

Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography seems to celebrate the late 1970s, not exactly disco but very "Saturday Night Fever," with arms and legs flailing. It works best in the musical's opening number, in which the cast is depicted getting ready for work as the title song throbs with ever-increasing urgency.

Physically, "9 to 5" is a big show, with designer Scott Pask's office settings fluidly moving on and off stage. And William Ivey Long's period costumes evoke some of the less hideous fashion choices of the '70s.

In the end, though, "9 to 5: The Musical" is a mixed bag. Savor it for Parton's songs and the three women who sing most of them. They make the case for the show being more than just another workday event.

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