9 to 5: THE MUSICAL (National Tour)
Book & Lyrics by Dolly Parton, Book by Patricia Resnick
Dallas Summer Musicals
Directed and Choreographed by Jeff Calhoun
Scenic Design by Kenneth Foy
Costume Design by William Ivey Long
Lighting Design by Ken Billington
Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy
Violet Newstead - Dee Hoty
Doralee Rhodes - Diana DeGarmo
Judy Bernly - Mamie Parris
Franklin Hart, Jr. - Joseph Mahowald
Roz Keith - Kristine Zbornik
Joe - Sean Montgomery
Dwayne - K.J. Hippensteel
Josh - Wayne Schroder
Dick/Tinsworthy - Wayne Schroder
Margaret - Jane Blass
Maria - Michelle Marmolejo
Missy - Natalie Charle Ellis
Bob Enright - Paul Castree
Detective - Autumn Guzzardi
Reviewed Performance 5/18/2011
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Critic/Editor/Founder for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Talk about strange coincidences. Right now we have two American Idol stars performing in national tours here in Dallas. Over at the Winspear is rocker Constantine Maroulis in ROCK OF AGES. While with Dallas Summer Musicals at the Music Hall is Diana DeGarmo in 9 to 5: The Musical.
9 to 5 is based on the 1980 hit film starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda. By today's modern standards, the material is quite dated - women stuck in low paying jobs while men jump to the top. They are called "girls" and made to fetch coffee, get pinched and ogled, and treated like pieces of meat. On second thought maybe some things have not changed much after all.
9 to 5 had its first production/tryout at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in September 2008. After much retooling it finally opened on Broadway on April 30, 2009. Unfortunately it had a short run of only 148 performances, closing in September of the same year. However it was nominated for 15 Drama Desk Awards, the most received by a production in a single year. The show would also garner four Tony award nominations.
Director/Choreographer Jeff Calhoun already had a past with Dolly Parton many years ago. They both first met when he was one of the Aggie dancers in the motion picture version of the musical BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (of which Parton played Miss Mona). The Broadway version of 9 to 5 was directed by Joe Mantello (who also helmed WICKED). When the tour was being formed, Calhoun jumped at the chance to work once again with Parton.
There were changes made to both the book and score for the tour. There were cuts, changes, and additions to the book. For the score, they took Roz's solo "Heart to Hart" and moved it earlier in Act One. They also deleted a song that Mr. Hart sang titled "Always a Woman."
It was a herculean task to transform an iconic hit film from the silver screen to the stage. Sometimes it worked but at other times it failed horribly. 9 to 5, for the most part, actually worked very well on stage. But there were some key scenes from the film that were so well remembered and loved that just didn't pack the same hilarity on stage.
The scene where Violet stole and wheeled the supposedly dead body of Hart all around the hospital on film was just outlandish comedy gold. For the stage version it came off way too cluttered and cumbersome. The contraption the girls created for Hart to be hung by had him strung up in a very naughty pose. The stage version just had him hanging there. It lost the laughs. For the side splitting pot smoking scene in which all three gals dreamed of ways to kill Hart just didn't translate that well on stage. The creators changed Judy's dream of chasing Hart with a large rifle, and in a safari outfit like she was hunting wild beasts in a jungle. The office employees became villagers with torches all seeking Hart. For the stage, it now had Judy as a femme fatale in one of those detective films. Also, Violet was no longer dressed up as Snow White for her dream. I'm sure that had to with Disney saying - no.
It was disappointing that two great comic scenes from the film were not used for the stage version. There's the infamous scene in which the girls have a car wreck with Hart in the trunk. As they tried to pull out the crushed metal by the tire, Violet told Doralee to get the tire iron from the trunk. That's when she discovered that the body in the trunk was not Hart. Then came her hilarious one-liner, "Um, Judy honey, can you come back here for a minute." Another great film scene involved the cop who pulled the girls over because of one of the tail lights was out. That scene had all three stars provide great one-liners and comedic moments.
Patricia Resnick wrote the stage book as well as the film version (with Colin Higgins). Her book kept many of the great one-liners from the film and still got the same robust laughs on stage. But the book unfortunately struggled in the second act. It came off like a hodgepodge of trying to fit it all in, but not really making logical sense, such as Hart's sudden escape that came from thin air. There also was the confusion of Judy's ex- husband spying on her which was never fully developed on stage. However, what Resnick wrote that shone in the second act was giving Violet a great speech about women's equality along with a romantic interest. She also wrote an epilogue that was actually funnier than the film version.
Where the show really shone, besides the direction and cast, was the very pleasurable score by Dolly Parton. The majority of the songs she composed really did a terrific job in regards to character development and plot. There were a couple of songs that didn't hit the mark, such as the three numbers the girls did in the pot dream sequence. Those felt lifeless and lacked more comedic panache in both music and lyrics.
But other songs hit the bull's eye! The majority of the score was really toe-tapping enjoyable. Some of the best musical numbers included "Here for You" (sung by Hart); "I Just Might" (sung by the three leading ladies); "Backwoods Barbie" (Doralee); the comedic showstopper "Heart to Hart" (Sung by Roz); "Shine Like the Sun" (also performed by the three leading gals); "Get Out and Stay Out" (Judy); and of course, the title song. The songs had sweet melodies for the ballads, and the upbeat numbers were composed with crowd pleasing results. I was very, very impressed that this Country & Western legend created an overall wonderful score. No wonder she earned a Tony nomination for it.
As stated before, it was a very difficult task to take a film story and put it on the stage. But a lot of this production did work wonderfully, transforming from celluloid to stage.
Director/Choreographer Jeff Calhoun kept everything moving with a brisk, tight pace that helped the action flow seamlessly without a lull anywhere. There were several scenes that transitioned from one place immediately to another. Calhoun choreographed the cast to move scenery in and out, still in character and made it go effortlessly. It was a very wise decision by Calhoun to not turn this into an over the top comedy and it had that potential. If he had, the show would have been a mess. Instead he directed his cast to just let the comedy flow on its own. He steered the cast from stereotypes as well - another wise decision. His choreography for this production was also energetic and visually entertaining. My personal favorite choreographed numbers included the opening number and Violet's number "One of the Boys".
Kenneth Foy's scenic design immediately put the audience into the 70's. The main drape was covered with iconic moments and public figures of that era. There was Donna Summer, the Chicago Bears when they won the Super Bowl, Jimmy Carter, and even the Scarsdale diet! Foy designed tall cubes with panels that flipped around to create all the various scenes. He also fashioned long slick towers of glass to give the set that office building vibe. His design for Hart's office and bedroom of his mansion were authentic in period and looked great on stage.
From the office men's polyester suits to the ladies' professional looking dresses, William Ivey Long's costumes of the 70's were detailed to perfection. I thought it was a sweet homage to Parton to have the stage Doralee wear the blue leather coat with the fur collar that she wore in the film. The lighting designed by Ken Billington worked in harmonious sync with Calhoun's direction and Foy's scenic design.
Kristine Zbornik took the supporting role of "Roz Keith" and turned it into a scene- stealing performance that got the loudest laughs in the show. From her stiff as a corpse walk, to her comedic timing, she was a riot. Her only solo song was by far the most hysterical number of the evening. Her performance begged for another big solo during the second Act. I so wished Parton and Calhoun could have seen that because Zbornik's sizzling comedic work deserved it.
It was disappointing though that Jane Blass did not capture the true hilarity that embodies "Margaret", the office alcoholic. In the film she had the best one-liner that, to this day, has become an iconic line. I can't count how many times I've heard a friend say "I'm going to get drunk" without someone saying, "Atta girl". Throughout the evening, Blass simply threw out the line. In some scenes, she didn't wait for the laughter that came before her line to subside, so she would say the line under her breath. When you have one of the most famous lines of a hit film, you lose the comedy magic by throwing them away as Blass did here.
Joseph Mahowald delivered the attitude and behavior a macho, sexist, egotistical bigot such as CEO honcho Franklin Hart had to perfection. His performance was so spot on you could envision him as Arnold Schwarzenegger, chasing his secretary in the California Governor's office. Mahowald savored the machismo bravado of his characterization right down to his only musical number "Here For You".
Providing charming, sweet performances were Sean Montgomery as "Joe", Violet's love interest, and Jesse JP Johnson as Violet's son "Josh".
Dee Hoty (Violet), Diana DeGarmo (Doralee), and Mamie Parris (Judy) equally carried the show, with splendid results. All three Broadway veterans had awesome comedic timing but also let the more quiet moments develop with heart tugging results. Their chemistry was flawless and you saw great camaraderie between them. All of their trio numbers were hands down the best sung numbers of the evening.
Ms. Hoty, a three time Tony nominee, had dynamic comedic timing and delivery that nailed every laugh line. With just the right facial expression, she knew where to hit the comedy bull's eye, never missing once. Her big solo "One of the Boys" reminded me of the great Lauren Bacall in the musical APPLAUSE. Hoty had that Bacall aura of "not messing with this tough broad". She did soften beautifully with Joe (Sean Montgomery) in the tender duet "Let Love Grow".
Mamie Parris, as Judy, played the recent divorcee who had entered the work force with no skills whatsoever and brought both comedic and dramatic elements that fleshed out her characterization beautifully. Parris's character had the most defined character arc within the three leading ladies and she rode that arc with superlative results. We saw her transform from a crying, insecure, scared, mousey girl into a woman who could take on life by the horns and didn't need a man to do it. Parris had one of the finest musical solos of the evening in "Get Out or Stay Out". She dug deep into the lyrics and its subtext and sang with great woman pride. Her final soprano note sustained for several long measures and was met with loud hurrahs from the audience.
I've said this before in print and I'll say it again. Diana DeGarmo should have won her season on American Idol. No disrespect to Fantasia, but DeGarmo had the bigger belt and more clear-toned voice than her competitor in the finale. When DeGarmo was in Dallas with the musical BROOKLYN, I had the delightful opportunity to interview her. She was just so sweet, warm, and a pleasure. Since then she has been seen on Broadway in HAIRSPRAY and HAIR.
Now returning in 9 to 5, DeGarmo played Doralee, the role made famous by Dolly Parton. Now that's a big pair of?um?..well?you fill in the blank here. But DeGarmo delivered a resplendent performance. She actually brought to her characterization the voice inflections that Parton had. DeGarmo did not copy her performance whatsoever, but used Parton's Southern accent to exquisite results. DeGarmo had stunning comedic chops I never knew she had! She achieved great laughs throughout the production with her exceptional comedic timing and delivery. She won the audience's heart in several scenes. When no one would eat lunch with her, DeGarmo's facial expression truly hit the mark. Her beautiful, heartbreaking solo "Backwoods Barbie" and dramatic interpretation of the lyrics sealed her performance. DeGarmo's work here would make the great Parton very proud.
Speaking of Parton, she actually made an onstage appearance in a very creative and quite humorous way. But I'll let you explore that on your own.
9 to 5 may not be the "perfect" musical. It did have some major book issues and some supporting characters that were not defined quite as clearly as they should be. But what made this musical work was its highly enjoyable score, its treasure of laughs, its detailed direction, and a divine cast from the leads right down to the ensemble.
After the grind of your 9 to 5, unwind with an evening of pleasurable musical entertainment by heading to the Music Hall to see 9 to 5! You just might go back to the office the next morning with a better outlook on your job, humming "Working 9 to 5"!
9 TO 5: THE MUSICAL (First National Tour)
Dallas Summer Musicals
Through May 29, 2011
Tuesdays - Sundays at 8 pm and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday
matinees at 2 pm.
Tickets are priced from $20-$85 and are on sale now at The Box Office, 542 Preston Royal Shopping Center, or any Ticket- master outlet, online at www.ticketmaster.com, or by calling 1-800-982-ARTS.