9 to 5: The Musical
Ahmanson Theatre (through 10/19)
This rollicking musical will move to Broadway in the spring, and it is easy to see why. Dolly Parton has leveraged her role in the original film and more importantly her prodigious songwriting talent to craft a sassy and occasionally bawdy production. With the superb direction of Joe Mantello and the sterling performances of the four leads, the result is satisfying for nearly everyone.
Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty play the three downtrodden officeworkers who gang up on Marc Kudisch, the piggish boss. Those familiar with Block and Hilty from their roles in Wicked will not be surprised at their prowess here. Those familiar with Janney only from her Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Awards for The West Wing will be stunned at her versatility.
Although today’s working world is more like 9 to 6, the play is set in 1979. The set and costumes accurately depict the era: wide lapels, vests and sideburns on the men, big hair and pastels on the girls, er…women. The office is replete with cans of Tab and IBM typewriters. Even a son’s pultruded plastic skateboard is spot on.
“Backwoods Barbie” is the first but not the last time Parton weaves in country twang; the dobro and fiddles are not out of place and serve her character well. (The song is also the title of Parton’s latest album, in a case of convenient timing). Although Parton hails from Tennessee, her alter ego on stage is from Texas. Most of the songs are catchy and serve to propel the storyline. The high point of Act One is oddly not the usual song before the intermission, but the quick triptych of songs resulting from our heroines’ stoned approach to handling their boss.
There are several slender subplots that never interfere with the action, but provide a subtle respite from the kidnapping of the boss. Although the story could have veered toward a Thelma and Louise tone (one song is called “I Killed the Boss”), I was actually put in mind of Mad Men, which just won a slew of Emmy awards. Set nearly 20 years early than the 1979 timeframe of 9 to 5 it likewise tells the tale of woman’s subservient role.
Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is vibrant, and the cast is ebullient. Women will invariably love the show and wise men will use the show as a great date night.