Monday, May 4, 2009

Review of "9 to 5--the Musical"

Take a memo—9 to 5, the last musical of the current New York season, is a big, splashy, feel-good production that Broadway has almost forgot how to produce. It is the perfect tonic to brighten up these difficult economic times. Based on the hit 1980 movie of the same name, the story focuses on three office secretaries who finally tire of their sexist, egotistical and all-together slimy boss. Through inadvertent happenstances they end up kidnapping the scoundrel, holding him hostage at his home, while at the same time covertly taking over office operations which drives productivity and morale through the roof.

There are a number of reasons that make 9 to 5 work. First, and foremost, are the three lead actresses—Allison Janney, as take charge office manager Violet Newstead; Stephanie Block, as the frazzled, new-to-the-work-world, Judy Bernly; and Megan Hilty as the Dolly Partonesque executive secretary, Doralee Rhodes. We like them, care about them and, most importantly, their chemistry and interplay together is unforced and genuine. All three actresses receive ample stage time and a song or two they can call their own, delivering each time they are called upon to take center stage. While both Stephanie Block and Megan Hilty have the more powerful voices, Allison Janney more than holds her own during her musical numbers. Marc Kudisch is downright despicable as boss Franklin Hart and the longtime Broadway veteran never lets up on the sleaziness factor.

The score by country legend Dolly Parton combines country with Broadway razz-ma-tazz and is wholly satisfying. The title song is reworked into an invigorating opening number that combines the kinetic choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler with the tuneful former chart topping song. Blankenbuehler’s style, exuberant and athletic, which so energized last year’s Tony winning In the Heights, is all about movement. Characters don’t just walk, but almost seem possessed by a rhythmic force as they traverse the stage.

Patricia Resnick’s book, based on her screenplay for the movie, encompasses all the highlights of the film while at the same time creatively re-engineering scenes for the stage. The extended dream sequence is a wonderful example. Director Joe Mantello, no stranger to large casts headed by strong, empowering women—think Wicked—superbly blends all the musical’s separate components into a breezy, fast-paced production. The second act does lag a trifle, but nowhere to the detriment of the show.

Scenic designer Scott Pask, as well as the rest of the creative team, have conjured up a realistic corporate office bullpen of secretaries and worker bees. Their use of rear screen projections adds some panache without being overbearing, something other Broadway shows should take heed of.

So, order more carbon paper, restock the white out, and sharpen those number two pencils, 9 to 5—the Musical should be taking out a long lease at the Marriott Marquis Theatre.

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