The seven inches of freshly fallen snow didn’t deter theater geeks like myself from venturing out on Wednesday for a night of theat-ah at Indianapolis’ Clowes Memorial Hall.
I had the pleasure of taking in the delightfully entertaining National Tour of the revenge comedy that inspired millions: 9 to 5: The Musical.
Kicking off the evening’s production, the crowd was treated to a quick video from composer, lyricist and don’t-call-her-a-diva extraordinaire Dolly Parton. Another video featuring Dolly appears at the end of the show, reminiscent of Mel Brooks’ turn at the end of The Producers. Some may view this a tad exploitative, but I think it provides lovely book-
ends to the event without detracting from the individuality of the theater adaptation. Besides, we all know going in that comparing the musical to the 1980’s hit film is inevitable.
Changes to the film’s script are noticeable, but subtle thanks to the handiwork of Patricia Resnick, the original screenwriter. She tweaks her words and modernizes the overall theme without abandoning her setting or betraying the time period. The most obvious change in the story involves the addition of Violet’s new love interest, Tom — played by the adorkably charming Gregg Goodbrod. It’s fascinating how adding the small element of a budding romance fills a void you never noticed in the film at all.
Interestingly, Act 1 is not all sunshine and rainbows. The production appears to mimic the tone of the story, albeit unintentionally. The first half of Act 1 seems to get stuck in first and second gear before finally finding and easing into third. From there it builds, step by step, melody by melody, into a delightful performance you want to share with all your family and friends who’ve forgotten how far women have come in the world of workplace equality.
In the beginning, you can’t help but feel sorry for poor Diana DeGarmo. As Doralee Rhodes, DeGarmo finds herself with big “shoes” to fill. But by the time we reach her first solo, “Backwoods Barbie,” she begins to step out of Dolly’s shadow and truly makes the role her own. DeGarmo delivers the song’s sentiment with such grace and heart, you can’t help but relate to a woman whom most of us might dismiss out of hand.
From this point on, the play finds its feet and serves up one of the strongest numbers of the show. Kristine Zbornik’s Roz Keith, aka Franklin Hart’s right-hand woman and company spy, nearly brings down the house with her solo “Heart to Hart.” Zbornik manages to compel a modicum of sympathy before driving the audience to enough laughter and applause that it just may leave her fellow thespians jealous.
The quality of the songs definitely pick up after “Backwards Barbie,” and there’s not a weak number in Act 2. Anyone familiar with Dolly’s songwriting will not be surprised by the bevy of tunes that are essentially simple in melody, but complex in emotional depth. She doesn’t have 42 Top 10 albums for nothing. If you were lucky enough to have seen the Broadway production or have committed the cast album to memory, you’ll note that the Franklin Hart solo number, “Always A Woman,” was cut from the National Tour. A shame considering it was easily Hart’s stronger number and there’s certainly room for it in the second act.
Speaking of our Mr. Hart, perhaps my most nagging complaint would be directed at Joseph Mahowald’s performance as Franklin Hart, Jr. Sadly, he doesn’t quite deliver in his role when compared to Mamie Parris’ Judy Bernly or Kristine Zbornik’s Roz. Don’t get me wrong. He aptly produces the smarmy persona of the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” we’ve all come to know, but he doesn’t seem to find the balance of ruthlessness and humor the role needs to make the character feel truly three-dimensional.
Conversely, Mamie Parris’ Judy Bernly is pitch perfect, vocally and emotionally. With each scene, the audience gets to revel in her character’s ascent until we’re finally rewarded with the 11 o’clock number “Get Out and Stay Out.”
Overall, 9 to 5: The Musical is a wonderful treat. Indianapolis tends to only draw family-focused Broadway productions to our Midwestern landscape, so it was a fun exception to see a National Tour who’s goal isn’t to appeal to the kid in all of us.
If you hope to catch the remainder of the Indianapolis run (or catch the show in your city soon), might I suggest you keep an eye out for two of the male chorus dancers: the one with the chest like Groundskeeper Willie and the other channeling the spirit and flexibility of Ben Vereen. These two gentlemen can’t help but draw your eye when they enter stage left. 😉
On a more serious note, for anyone wondering why yet another theater adaption of a popular film deserves our attention, I would say this musical serves as a fine reminder
of how not 30 years ago, the corporate world was a lot less hospitable to women. Not just in the United States, but all over the world. Thankfully, the playbill includes a special note from Jane Fonda that shines a brief spotlight on the organization — 9to5.org — that inspired the original screenplay. Representing secretaries, office assistants and clerical personnel, the organization still exists today, battling on for the rights of working women everywhere. Dolly Parton’s pursuit to share this story with a new generation helps us appreciate our past while encouraging us to create a future we would all love to see.