9 TO 5

Violet, Doralee, and Judy, the trio of office gals made famous by Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda in 1980’s 9 To 5 are back—in a re-directed, re-choreographed, re-designed National Tour of the Broadway musical which world premiered a few years back at the Ahmanson.

Now it’s Broadway’s Dee Hoty, Diana DeGarmo, and Mamie Parris who bring to life the secretarial trio whose “accidental” kidnapping of their misogynistic boss gives them the power to remake the company where they’ve toiled without reward—and remake their lives in the bargain.

Dolly Parton herself wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musicalization of the film that made her a movie star, and it’s the busty Queen Of Country Pop who narrates the national tour, albeit via the wonders of technology.

Parton’s prerecorded introduction and prologue is but one of many changes which differentiate this scaled-down yet still quite entertaining National Tour from its L.A./New York predecessor, the first time I’m aware of that a Broadway musical has toured with all new direction, choreography, and scenic, lighting, and sound designs. In fact, William Ivey Long’s splendid late-‘70s costumes are all that remain from the Ahmanson/Broadway production, that and Parton’s songs and Patricia Resnick’s book (based on the screenplay she cowrote with Colin Higgins).

Director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun, whom L.A. audiences know from his sensational double-duty helming of the Deaf West productions of Pippin and Big River, puts his own inventive stamp on 9 To 5: The National Tour, and the result is a bright and bouncy journey back in time to a not-so-long-ago era when there was no such thing as an “office manager” and a male boss (they were all male back then, or so it seemed) could call his female employees “girls” and get away with it.

Fans of the Ahmanson/Broadway production may miss Andy Blankenbuehler’s spectacularly athletic choreography, but Calhoun is no slouch in the dance design department. (Lisa Stevens co-choreographed.) Scott Pask’s equally spectacular sets were talked about almost as much as the show itself when it debuted, and they too are gone, but Kenneth Foy’s ingenious redesign gives the National Tour its own unique, retro look, and is surely a heck of a lot easier to transport than the original would have been.

Calhoun and company put the emphasis squarely on the telling of our three heroines’ stories, and with stars as engaging as Hoty, Parris, and DeGarmo, the secretaries-turned-bosses are in more than capable hands.

Three-time Tony nominee Hoty is terrific as the sharp-tongued Violet, and though Vi’s songs (written for non-singer Allison Janney) aren’t the finest showcase for Hoty’s great pipes, the role gives the Broadway star ample opportunities to strut her triple threats, particularly in the big Act Two production number “One Of The Boys.” Parris is a marvelous Judy, going from mouse to lion in two hours and a half, and belting with a powerhouse voice that hits the rafters in “Get Out And Stay Out,” 9 To 5’s answer to Wicked’s “Defying Gravity.” DeGarmo out-Dollys Dolly as curvaceous Doralee, with country charm in abundance and a voice that adds a bit of Betty Boop’s squeal to Dolly’s signature drawl.

Joseph Mahowald is devilishly smarmy as boss Franklin Hart Jr. and Kristine Zbornik a riot as Hart’s mannish, love-struck assistant Roz. Supporting roles are brought to life by the kind of top-drawer triple-threats you expect from a major National Tour: Randy Aaron, Jane Blass, Paul Castree, Janet Dickinson, Natalie Charlé Ellis, Gregg Goodbrod, Autumn Guzzardi, K.J. Hippensteel, Jesse JP Johnson, Michelle Marmolejo, April Nixon, Ryah Nixon, Rick Pessagno, Mark Raumaker, and Wayne Schroder. Swings Brian Beach, Sarah Dacey Charles, Marjorie Failoni, and Travis Waldschmidt may appear at any performance as ensemble subs.

The fifteen-piece orchestra which performed at the Ahmanson has been scaled down to music director Martyn Axe conducting a mere four instruments according to the program, hard to believe since they sound like three times that many. Music supervisor Stephen Oremus’s vocal arrangements are as gorgeous here as they were in All Shook Up, which is to say that you haven’t heard vocal harmonies till you’ve heard Oremus’s, which make Parton’s songs sound all the richer and better. Ken Billington’s lighting design and Steve Canyon Kennedy’s sound design are both topnotch creations. Timothy R. Semon is production stage manager.

To be perfectly honest, I did miss the scale and dazzle of the Ahmanson production, with its vibrant LED projections. Act One’s trio of dream sequence production numbers (“The Dance Of Death,” “Cowgirl’s Revenge,” and “Potion Notion”) are no longer the show-stoppers they once were. A slight reduction in cast size means that three of Violet’s ten male backup dancers in “One Of The Boys” need to be filled by women in drag. Still, with talents like Calhoun, Hoty, Parris, and DeGarmo in charge, these are relatively minor complaints, and in its favor, the National Tour does keep our focus where it ought to be, on the story and the characters and the songs.

9 To 5 runs a brief five-day engagement at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts, the closest the tour will get to Los Angeles. Dolly Parton fans won’t want to miss this one.

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
–Steven Stanley
May 10, 2011
Photos: Joan Marcus

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