'9 to 5: The Musical'

"9 to 5: The Musical" comes across in its current touring company production as a light and lively crowdpleaser.

As peppy as a frisky puppy, “9 to 5: The Musical” comes across in its current touring company production as a light and lively crowdpleaser with a pronounced appeal to baby boomers given to fond memories of the 1980 film that inspired it – and not-so-fond memories of the more or less institutionalized sexism that prevailed in the white-collar professional world of the 1970s. Indeed, this Tony-nominated tuner — which lasted for only 148 performances on Broadway — could easily wind up generating brisker biz in many markets than shows that posted much longer New York runs.

Much of the credit must go to Dolly Parton, who made her acting debut in the original feature, wrote its enduringly popular title song — which, of course, is repeated in this reconstitution — and supplemented that tune with enough country-flavored music and lyrics (her first stage score) for a full-scale musicalization. But wait, there’s more: For the touring production, Parton actually appears on video to provide cheeky and charming narration at the beginning and end, along with a fair degree of old-fashioned star power.

Librettist Patricia Resnick — who co-wrote the film with its director, the late Colin Higgins — sticks fairly close to the original scenario, recycling the main characters and plot complications in a broadly humorous period piece set in 1979. To a certain degree, she has blunted the edge of the film’s seriocomic social commentary: Ideas and attitudes that may have seemed outrageously unjust then seem somehow quaintly silly, if not downright cartoonish, in this 21st-century reprise. On the other hand, Resnick keeps many of the movie’s funnier lines and situations while earning easy laughs with “topical” references to Atari, liquid paper, state-of-the-art typewriters, etc.

At heart, it’s a satisfying tale of comical comeuppance, as a craven corporate boss (Joseph Mahowald), aptly and repeatedly described as “a sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical bigot,” is force-fed just desserts by three fed-up femme employees: Violet (Dee Hoty), a vet office manager who’s tired of butting her head against the glass ceiling; Doralee (Diana DeGarmo), a sexy Southern belle — Parton’s role in the movie — who’s even more tired of warding off her boss’ unwanted advances; and Judy (Mamie Parris), a newcomer to the secretarial pool, who develops a sense of self-worth only after her churlish husband dumps her for a younger woman.

Equals parts feminist fantasy fulfillment and sitcom-style farce — the three heroines temporarily imprison their boss, then secretly run the company (much more successfully) during his absence — “9 to 5: The Musical” often flirts with wink-wink naughtiness in dialogue and sight gags in a manner that recalls dinner theater staples of the 1970s. But nothing is ever allowed to get too far out of hand, and the production overall benefits from the swift and streamlined pacing of director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun.

Indeed, Calhoun sustains such a pleasing tempo that he’s even able to glide through the egregiously unconvincing deus ex machina ending. Better still, he gets very fine work from his three well-cast leads.

As the sassily spunky Doralee, DeGarmo deftly suggests Parton’s vocal and physical trademarks while leaving her own imprint on the role, and does a standout job while performing what’s arguably the best song in the show after “9 to 5″ itself, the wistful “Backwoods Barbie.” Parris hits all the right notes as Judy — originally played by Jane Fonda — and shows off impressive pipes when belting out the potent ballad “Get Out and Stay Out.”

But it’s Hoty who emerges as the indisputable first among equals as Violet, playing the droll office upstart with subtle hints of actresses who previously played the part — Lily Tomlin on film, Allison Janney on Broadway — but making the role her own with a delightful mix of dry wit, crisp intelligence and mature sexiness. She shines brightest during a mock-glitzy production number — “One of the Boys” — but also impresses during the nonmusical moments when she delivers withering put-downs with dead-eye accuracy.

Many behind-the-scenes vets of the 2009 Broadway staging are on board to ensure that “9 to 5: The Musical” is a thoroughly polished package ready for long-distance road work. Of particular note are William Ivey Long’s period-perfect costumes, which are only slightly exaggerated versions of trendy attire from the Polyester Era.

9 to 5: The Musical

Hobby Center, Houston; 2,650 seats; $104 top

Production

Theater Under the Stars, Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Fox Theatricals, Roger G. Bartner and Howard Panter for ATG, Independent Presents Network and Nederlander Organization presentation of a of a musical in two acts with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick. Directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun. Musical supervision and vocal arrangements, Stephen Oremus; co-choreographer, Lisa Stevens.

Creative

Sets, Kenneth Foy; costumes, William Ivey Long; lighting, Ken Billington; sound, Steve Canyon Kennedy; orchestrations, Bruce Coughlin; additional orchestrations/incidental music arrangements, Oremus, Alex Lacamoire; dance music arrangements, Lacamoire; hair, Paul Huntley, Edward J. Wilson; production stage manager, Daniel S. Rosokoff. Opened Nov. 9, 2010; reviewed Nov. 14, 2010. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

Cast

Violet Newstead - Dee Hoty Doralee Rhodes - Diana DeGarmo Judy Benly - Mamie Parris Franklin Hart Jr. - Joseph Mahowald Roz Keith - Kathy Fitzgerald Joe - Gregg Goodbrod

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