Janney a show-stealer in ‘9 to 5’

Actress shares thoughts on stage, screen

WENT TO the Marriott Marquis where the stage door is almost right in Times Square to see Allison Janney who is so miraculous onstage these nights in the Dolly Parton musical “9 to 5.” (For someone skilled in the acting business but not really a singer or dancer, her prowess is astonishing!) Everybody in America is in love with Allison Janney anyway — and they have been ever since her seven years as the president’s press secretary on “The West Wing.” Allison, who is playing what they call the Lily Tomlin part (if you are harking back to the iconic movie of the same name) turns out to be just what you’d expect and hope for. I told Allison I believed Dolly could double park, or commit a crime right there in Times Square and she’d be let off Scot free. Allison laughed. “It’s true. I agree. Dolly’s lovability factor is very high. And people seem to adore this show. I had never done a musical before and the fans for this are just unbelievable. They are all infused with love for Dolly, for the idea, for the memory of the film and they are so supportive. It’s really thrilling to be doing something that is so different for me. I’m not really a singer, although I am studying like crazy with vocal coach Liz Kaplan. The only time I ever sang before was for a breast cancer benefit where I performed the Larry Hart song “Zip” with special lyrics sending up people in L.A.”.

How did you trip into “9 to 5?” I asked. “Allison said, “Well, I had worked before with Joe Mantello. He thought I could do this and I guess I just trusted his judgment. You know I once did a little play for him in New York called “Fat Men In Skirts.” I remember going onstage and I felt nobody in the audience was looking at me or paying any attention to me. So I looked hard at the audience and there were Jackie Onassis, John Kennedy Jr., Al Pacino, Ellen Burstyn, and Mike Nichols sitting downfront. No wonder no one was looking at me! Well, anyway, I had a great letter from Mike Nichols after and he has become a real supporter. But I let Mantello talk me into this musical. We talked about the first thing that happens in “9 to 5” — a man crosses the stage with a big erection. She seemed to muse. “Y – e – sss! But it’s funny, kind of sweet, it’s not vulgar.”

Is there a love interest in this dynamite woman’s life? Would she have time? Her list of movies, plays and TV shows is so long, it’s absolutely daunting; she must work all the time. Allison said, “No, and I’m not married. I have been engaged three times but every time I step back from the brink. I find I am always on the verge of backing out. But I’m not lonely. And I have my dog ‘Addie.’ She is an Australian cattle dog mix. I searched and found her online.”

I told Allison how much I had enjoyed her in many movies, for instance in “The Hours.” She said, “All the time I worked on that I was thinking, ‘Omigod, I am Meryl Streep’s lover. I’m here in bed with Meryl Streep. She’s just about to kiss me. It was quite an experience.” Allison and I had our visit just before ‘9 to 5″ — the musical — opened to raves. At that time, they were still making changes. I asked Allison if the musical is essentially different from when it ran for six weeks in L.A.?

“Well, it has changed a lot and for the better.

But we had such support in L.A. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dabney Coleman, of the original movie all came to see us and to cheer us on. But we’ve gotten better and better. It was too much like the movie then and when they started changing it, we, the actors, had an unusual reaction — we said to each other ‘Wow! These are good changes.”

I asked if she missed “The West Wing.” She thought and said, “The last two years were just brutal and infuriating; that was after we stepped up the filming schedule. We’d tape several shows at once and we didn’t know what we were doing at times.”

Then Allison asked me if I knew Martin Sheen who had played the President? We both did a 15-minute rave on this wonderful man. Allison, mused, sitting with her chin on her hands, her big fabulous stage-perfect eyes glittering. She sighed: “But I would still be doing ‘The West Wing” … I’d be doing it for the rest of my life if it had been possible.”