Dee Hoty, Diana DeGarmo and Mamie Parris fill the roles of Violet, Doralee and Judy, respectively, played in the movie by Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda, again respectively. The first two sound eerily like their cinematic counterparts and deliver dynamic performances; Parris is there vocally, but her part pales in comparison.
Set in 1979, Afros and all, “9 to 5” remains a story of three secretaries being fed up with their chauvinistic, mustachioed boss, Franklin Hart (Joseph Mahowald, more Bob Goulet than Dabney Coleman), who’s more interested in sexual harassment than doing any actual work. When a line is crossed and a situation spirals out of control, the women are forced to take him hostage, leading to a crowd-pleasing effect, but also a too-rushed ending.
For the musical, Parton — who appears in a video cameo/wraparound that should have been excised — wrote a slew of new songs to accompany her iconic, title tune, and does an excellent job marrying her pop-country instincts to the demands of the theater. While most of the numbers are ensembles, each character gets a chance at the vocal-chord spotlight. Hoty shines in the glitzy fantasy of “One of the Boys,” as Violet imagines herself as CEO; DeGarmo is Parton in the Western-flavored ballad, “Backwoods Barbie”; and Parris won over the audience late in the game with “Get Out and Stay Out,” which certainly would’ve been adopted as a NOW anthem, if only it had existed back in the day.
The show is stolen, however, by two individual songs that teasingly layer on the raunch sauce. First, Mahowald’s Hart professes his undying lust for DeGarmo’s character’s curves in “Here for You.” A little later, Kristine Zbornik brought down the house with “Heart to Hart,” as the office’s unattractive snitch reveals her loins burn only for Hart, although he gets physically ill just looking at her.
Matching the songs in liveliness are the sets, particularly brightening up following the intermission. Exuberance is high throughout, dampened by the occasional, too-obvious, “in hindsight” gag, where things that were new or nonexistent in 1979 — Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan, answering machines, The Clapper — are mentioned in a “hmmm, wouldn’t that be great!” manner. Those go for easy laughs and get them, even if they’re not funny. Luckily, the book by Patricia Resnick, who co-wrote the film, keeps these to a minimum and even mitigates them with some truly hilarious moments.
One nagging point unrelated to the production itself: When did Civic Center start allowing audience members to bring in food and drink? I don’t know how I’m always seated in front of the auditorium’s nightly winners for Most Annoying Patrons, but the couple behind me on opening night ate jalapeño potato chips, whose crispiness was evident given the site’s excellent acoustics; played with an empty M&M wrapper; and chewed ice cubes. It was heavily distracting. And then they left their trash on the floor, the egotistical, hypocritical bigots. —Rod Lott