On September 18th, I met up with a few of my friends from the ABBA fan community and we went to a performance of the new musical “9 to 5” now having it’s world premiere at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. The show is being tested here in Southern California before it heads to Broadway in March 2009.
The musical is based on the movie, “9 to 5” which originally starred, Lilly Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton. The movie and the musical are both written by Patricia Resnick and in the process of bringing “9 to 5” to the stage, Dolly Parton was asked if she’d like to do the music for the show as the movie’s iconic title song has been one of Dolly’s biggest hits of all time. Dolly wasn’t sure she was up to the task but said she’d like to give it a try, and wouldn’t you know it she’s written some brilliant songs for the show. And all of it directed by Joe Mantello, the man behind the direction of the hit musical, “Wicked.”
In the musical, Lilly Tomlin’s role of Violet Newstead is played by Allison Janney of “The West Wing” fame. Allison just inhabits the role and makes it her own. She does a brilliant job especially with the song “One Of The Boys”. Jane Fonda’s role of Judy Burnly is played by Stephanie J. Block who’s recently come from the role of Broadway’s Elphaba in “Wicked”. Stephanie really captures the timidness of the role and lets her independence shine in the showstopper song she gets in the second act called, “Get Out And Stay Out.” And Megan Hilty takes on Dolly Parton’s role of Doralee Rhoades, who recently starred as Glenda in “Wicked”. Megan really seems to be able to channel Dolly and yet still make the role her own. She gives a heatwarming rendition of “Backwoods Barbie” which Dolly herself does on her latest album, get your copy of the song here at iTunes USA or iTunes Europe.
Also in the show are Mark Kudisch and Kathy Fitzgerald as Franklin Hart, Jr. and Roz respectively. Mark expertly takes on the role of the “Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot” and seems to relish playing such a villain. He even gets the chance to sing and do flips at the same time in his harness once he’s been kidnapped. Kathy captures the office snitch with such passion that the song Dolly Parton wrote for Roz is a play on the title song, this time called “5 to 9” indicating what a bore her life is away from the office.
I was curious how they’d bring “9 to 5” to life since the office environment has changed quite a bit since the late 1970’s/early 1980’s when “9 to 5” was first dreamed up and then took movie audiences by storm. And to address that matter, the musical is set in same era as the movie, so the look and feel of the movie is maintained along with the scary fashion sense of the time. But it allows for jokes to be made about how time have changed since the days of typewriters and the infamous copier from hell scene which is recreated here in the show.
Every character seems to get their due with a song and a dance routine, as there are songs to introduce the characters, even Mr. Hart and Roz get their songs to establish their characters. And of course all three of the marijuana induced fantasies about how each of the main trio would like to deal with Mr. Hart get their own song and dance numbers. You’d think this would be tedious to go through three songs, but each captures the flair of the movie and are a highlight of the stage show.
The sets for the show are extremely elaborate. It has to run like clockwork because with set pieces swinging in and out of place, moving in from above, and trapdoors opening all over the floor, the cast gives any Cirque du Soleil show a run for it’s money for exact timing. You name it comes up through the floor from a bed in the opening number, the copier from hell, desks, a rooftop tree in a planter, and even a set of urinals. You definitely get your money’s worth in terms of spectacle.
About the only area which doesn’t really seem needed in the show was something that wasn’t in the movie, and that’s a love interest for Violet Newstead, who’s name is Joe and played by Andy Karl. While his performance was brilliant, it seems his plotline just kind slows the show down. Perhaps it’s because both Judy and Doralee have spouses that it was felt necessary to add one for Violet, but it’s okay to see her as a divorced single mom, because that’s not so uncommon in this day and age, even if it wasn’t at the dawn of the 80’s.
All in all, “9 to 5” is a fun show, and if you’re remotely familiar with the movie, you’re going to have a great time at the musical. A lot of the best lines from the movie make their way into the stage show. One of my favorites is where Judy is chasing off her husband at Mr. Hart’s house and indicating she into M&M’s (when she really means S&M after her husband sees the elaborate imprisonment of Mr. Hart.) I personally can’t wait for the show to hit Broadway so I can get a proper cast album! Dolly’s new songs are wonderful.
If you are in the Los Angeles Area, “9 to 5” is running until October 19th, 2008 at the Ahmanson Theatre. Get tickets here directly from the Ahmanson or save money and get discount tickets here at Goldstar. Goldstar requires a membership (don’t worry, it’s free), but you can get tickets for half price plus a small service fee. I’ve used the service several times myself for shows like Avenue Q when it was in San Diego in 2007. All you do is buy the tickets and collect them at will call. And if you sign up for their newsletter, they’ll send you a weekly e-mail showing tickets in your area that you can get for half off through them. Again visit Goldstar by clicking here.
And if you go, be sure to hang out by the stage door where you can catch the cast as they exit the theatre. The program cover above shows the many signatures I caught, which included all the main actors, as well as the director, and several of the ensemble who were kind enough to stop and talk to the fans outside. In fact, here’s a photo of me with Allison Janney taken by my friend Fiona Metcalfe.