“9 to 5: The Musical”

photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

Musical:    “9 to 5: The Musical”

Group:        Touring Company

Venue:        Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand

Dates:        Through February 20

Tickets:    From $24; contact 314-534-1111 or  www.metrotix.com

Story:    Left heartbroken and short of cash when her husband runs off with his secretary, inexperienced Judy lands a job with megacompany Consolidated Industries. She is tutored by longtime assistant Violet, a widow who has been passed over for promotion many times even while training men who advance beyond her.  Judy also meets Doralee, buxom secretary to lecherous boss Franklin Hart Jr.

    As Hart continues to make life miserable for the women in the company, including boasting of an imaginary love affair with the married Doralee, the three women plot their revenge in fantasies fueled by marijuana in Violet’s house.  When Violet inadvertently pours rat poison into Hart’s coffee, he threatens to have all of them arrested.  Instead, they kidnap him and hold him captive in his own home while his wife is away on vacation.  In his absence, Violet institutes changes at the socially repressed company, leading to a surprise visit by the chairman of the board just as Hart frees himself and plots his own vengeance.

Highlights:    Based on the 1980 movie that starred Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman, “9 to 5: The Musical” marked the Broadway debut of Parton as its composer and lyricist when it opened in 2009 following a 2008 tryout in Los Angeles.  The show ran just four months in New York, and a year later began its national tour.

    The best part of this touring production is the splendid work by all three of the primary actresses.  Veteran performer Dee Hoty, polished professional that she is, smoothly guides the action on stage with a subtle comic touch and a voice that carries a tune nicely.  Her star turn in the second act’s “One of the Boys” shows off a dazzling white suit courtesy of costume designer William Ivey Long in a modest dance number that brings some zest to the presentation.

Other Info:    Hoty is matched by two terrific young talents, Mamie Parris and Diana DeGarmo.  Parris has the best voice in the troupe, which she demonstrates in ensemble numbers such as “I Just Might” and “Shine Like the Sun” as well as the ballad, “Get Out and Stay Out,” as she summons the strength to banish her wastrel husband when he returns from his fling.  Parris shows deft comic ability in scenes with Hoty, DeGarmo and Joseph Mahowald as the villainous Hart.

    DeGarmo, an “American Idol” runner-up at age 16, is a delight to watch as Doralee, the part essayed by Parton in the movie.  With puffed-up air and other larger-than-life attributes, DeGarmo regales the audience with an entertaining version of the country music legend.  And her smooth voice pays fine tribute to Parton on the country ballad, “Backwoods Barbie,” as well.

    “9 to 5” shows some serious signs of aging, which hurts the production, although the mod hair styles and exaggerated styles of the 1979 era are fun to see, with compliments to hair designers Paul Huntley and Edward J. Wilson and the previously mentioned costume designer Long.  While women’s rights in the work place were in their infancy at the time of the show’s setting, the role of Hart is nothing more than a buffoonish caricature, giving Mahowald little to work with.

    Kristine Zbornik keeps the audience chuckling as the hard-on-the-eyes Roz, Hart’s dutiful subordinate with a secret yearning for her ne’er-do-well boss, particularly a painfully funny bit called “5 to 9” as she clumsily cavorts across the set.  That set, by the way, is a stylish combination of backdrops and office furniture in the center, offset by Hart’s posh office on one side and home settings for Violet and Hart interchanged on the other, all framed by a photo montage of ‘70s icons.  The frequent set changes are quick and effortless throughout, keeping the show moving at a good pace.

    Unfortunately, the two best songs in the entire production are the very first pair, the title tune followed by a smart piece called “Around Here,” in which Violet introduces Judy to the work ethic at the company in an impressive and smooth bit of choreography courtesy of director Jeff Calhoun and Lisa Stevens.  It also shows off the talents of the show’s band, led by music director and conductor Martyn Axe and featuring guitarist Chuck Pierce, keyboardist Christopher Littlefield and drummer Greg Germann.

    Patricia Resnick contributed the book to complement Parton’s music and lyrics and Ken Billington provides the satisfactory lighting.  Calhoun’s direction is OK, but the real problem with this show is that it really has nowhere to go after the first act, and even so takes too long to get there.  Even with Parton getting things off to a sprightly start with a filmed presentation that opens and concludes the proceedings, “9 to 5: The Musical” isn’t a very satisfying way to make a living.

Rating:    A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.