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Theater Review: 9 to 5 equals a perfect 10

January 26, 2011

The Broadway cast of 9 to 5. Photo by Joan Marcus

By Bill Beard
Theater Critic

9 to 5, a four-time Tony Award-nominated musical playing a limited run right now at Chicago’s Bank of America Theatre, is one of those challenging shows that creates a “new stage version” of a “favorite movie”! Of course, it should make it easier when the music and the lyrics of the musical are being written by the phenomenal woman herself, Ms. Dolly Parton, a seven-time Grammy Award-winning singer, who wrote the original theme song of the film and who starred in it, thereby launching her permanently into the mainstream of American entertainment.

The original film opened in 1980, grossed more than $100,000,000, and also featured two other long-standing stars, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. These three stars, aided by the brilliant comedic villainy of Dabney Coleman, took 9 to 5 to top billing and has left it on several lists of America’s Best Comedies.

The musical follows the story of the film very closely. Its marketing calls it “…a hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era. … [A] story of three secretary friends who conspire to take control of their company and learn there’s nothing they can’t do…even in a man’s world. Outrageous, thought-provoking and even romantic, 9 to 5: The Musical is about teaming up and taking care of business…it’s about getting credit and getting even.”

Originally produced on Broadway by Rockford’s own Robert Greenblatt, and featuring Rockford’s own Paul Castree in the cast, this national touring production is worth the trip. But there are problems. If you loved the movie, you’ll love the three major stars, especially their gorgeous singing voices, as well as the dynamic ensemble surrounding them. But the evening also drags at times, such as a long trio of “dream sequences” in which the girls fantasize about how they would get rid of their boss. And even though I appreciated the ingenuity of the four-sided periaktoi, there must have been a better way of making the endless scene changes quicker and smoother.

In brief comments:

How great to have Dolly “drop by” on her birthday, introduced by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who declared it Illinois’ official “Dolly Parton Day“; after all, she is an icon!

Diana DeGarmo met the challenge of doing Dolly with Dolly in the audience quite well; but no threat, Ms. Parton.

Dee Hoty develops Tomlin’s character of Violet Newstead into a strong presence by the second act.

But Mamie Parris as Judy (the Jane Fonda role) wins my vote for most consistent and promising performer of the night. You will see this gal again! And often!

Joseph Mahoward does a good job of portraying Dabney Coleman, but that’s as far as it seemed to go.

Kristine Zbornik’s Roz, doggedly devoted executive assistant to the mean old boss, lacked development until her rousing “Heart to Hart,” and her second act, “5 to 9.”

And Jane Blass as dipso-secretary Margaret, though she came across somewhat contrived in the first act, made up for it with a great rehab recovery.

All in all, again, if you loved the movie…go, you’ll enjoy the musical. And it only plays through Sunday, Jan. 30.

For information, call 800-715-2000 or visit ticketmaster.com.

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