9 to5,theMusical. Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton. Book by Patricia Resnick based on the 20th Century Fox film, script by Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins. Directed by John Saunders.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Don’t judge me by the cover — I’m a real good book."
Sometimes a musical has to be all about the bust. Set in 1979 the stage musical "9 to 5" seems to be just that, a musical about the shape of women’s busts as seen in that less than magical time. It was the International Year of the Child; Jimmy Carter was the president who released Patty Hearst and John Mitchell from Federal prisons, and on June 6 actor Jack Haley, the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of Oz," died. I saw this show in its current Mac-Haydn Theatre production on the anniversary of Haley’s death and somehow that feels appropriate.
The women in this show all have shapely busts. Their dresses, seemingly equipped with push-up bras, emphasize them. Franklin Hart, Jr., played by Patrick Heffernan, is constantly staring at them, kneeling on his desk to get a better view. Roz Keith, played by Lauren French, has one and ultimately shares it with someone else who also displays one. In fact from the three principals to the many women in the chorus, that’s all you see. And when Doralee Rhodes, played by the busty Lea Nardi, sings the line above in the title of this review, in her song "Backwoods Barbie," you know she has just nailed the most significant aspect of this show.
Dolly Parton, renowned for her own bust, played Doralee in the film for which she wrote the title song, a very good song and very popular. The film is credited with bringing the country singer into the entertainment mainstream and that was definitely a good thing. Sadly, though, none of the songs in this stage musical reach the level of the title tune, written for the 1980 film. That is a problem because as much fun as the fifteen musical numbers become in this show there really is nothing memorable about them and all you can hum on the way out is "9 to 5." Parton seems to have bet it all on one song.
Director John Saunders with the help of choreographer Bryan Knowlton has succeeded in making this play amusing and fun to watch. Visual gags abound and you have to watch carefully to catch some of them, but once you do, it all gets funny as three women take charge of their less than sweet lives and kidnap their boss in an effort to better their situation. Sadly, once again, their efforts only prove to set them up for disaster until the author breaks in the faithful tradition of the "deus ex machina" and good triumphs over evil through the intervention of an outside character never hinted at until his arrival saves the day. This technique is used just as effectively here as in "The Threepenny Opera" or "How to Succeed in Business..." or any other show that has employed it over the century and a half past.
He handles his leading ladies nicely, each maintaining all of their basic characteristics from start to finish. Judy Bernly, (Jane Fonda in the film) played by Laura Helm is appropriately pretty, awkward and non-violent until pushed to the edge by her ex-husband Dick (yes, they use it as a joke here) played with appropriate macho mania by Ned Raube-Wilson. Violet Newstead (the Lily Tomlin film role) is undertaken by Monica M. Wemitt who manages to replicate the strength of Lauren Bacall in "Woman of the Year" singing Parton’s edition of "One of the Boys." Doralee Rhodes (the Parton part) gives Lea Nardi a chance to show off every talent she has to wonderful results.
These three women are the show, each playing with different energy and different concepts of the busty woman and what she has to offer. They are constantly together, like the three stooges or three musketeers, and so they really have to be addressed as the three faces of Eve. They are the quintessential woman, part virgin, part mother, part slut. Individually their author has made them single-o and unrelentingly so. However, as a trio they are one delightful lady to get to know.
Their men are a different story. No two guys could be as different in character as Franklin Hart and Joe, the Accountant. Hart loves Hart who loves nookie, whatever that is (you know; so do I). He is shallow, vain, self-centered and pompous and Heffernan plays all of that with gusto and so much so that he threatens to become more caricature than character. Still there really is no other way to play him in this stage version (Dabney Coleman in the film brought more range to the character). Derrick Jaques gives Joe, and the show, some genuine heart and affection and that makes him stand out from the crowd more than anyone else in the show.
Gillian Hassert is a perfect Marie Delgado. Stephanie Granade uses a wonderful physicality to highlight Margaret, before and after. Gabe Belyeu is a bit too broad as Mr. Tinsworthy but he gets away with it. Lauren French adds another special nod playing Roz Keith, a part enshrined by Elizabeth Wilson in the movie.
Erin Kiernan’s cumbersome sets work well within the scope of the play, Eric Franzen’s costumes illuminate the period and Andrew Gmoser’s lighting is the perfect complement to the show’s other technical accomplishments. Cyn Simonoff’s sound design was not pleasant, but that seemed to be more due to the clumsy mixing by a technician.
"9 to 5" will never be a perfect show, but it works, it entertains, it doesn’t make a lasting impression but why should it need to do so. For a summer evening there is just nothing wrong with spending two hours and twenty minutes with some Parton people. Heck, they’re just down the road and mighty pleasant to look at. With all those busts. Out and up. From nine until five.
Monica M. Wemitt and Derrick Jaques; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Lea Nardi as Doralee; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
9 to 5 plays at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located at 1925 State Route 203 in Chatham, NY through June 16. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.MacHaydnTheatre.org.