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NY Theater Reviews

Megan Hilty, Allison Janney and Stephanie J. Block/Ph:Sara Krulwich



This is a musical that tries too hard to please. Yes, the tunes are perky and the leading ladies likable. But that old adage that less is more should have been heeded.

The big, bustling new musical based on the popular 1980 movie that starred Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda tries hard to please. Maybe too hard. Directed by Joe Mantello (Wicked) and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler (In the Heights), 9 to 5 is like a kid with ADD-and apparently it's aimed at audiences with ADD. The large cast never stops moving, and neither does the set. Despite several fun numbers, and lively performances, 9 to 5 is a peppy but mostly uninspired show that brings to mind other recent movies-turned- musicals like The Wedding Singer and Legally Blonde.

Featuring music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 gets off to a bouncy start with its title number. The song breezily introduces us to its trio of heroines: Violet ( Allison Janney), who runs the secretarial pool- nervous new hire Judy ( Stephanie J. Block) and busty , blond Doralee(Megan Hilty). Violet and everyone else in the office assumes that Doralee is having an affair with their male-chauvinist-pig boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Marc Kudisch). That's because the leering Hart has spread the rumor himself. Once Doralee bonds with Violet and Judy-thanks to a marijuana-fueled bonding session-the ladies kidnap Hart and transform the male-dominated company into a bastion of female empowerment.

Fans of the movie will get a kick out of the cleverly staged fantasy sequences in which the secretaries imagine offing Hart. The three also team up nicely for the pretty ballad, "I Just Might." Parton's upbeat songs are generally better than her sweet, sincere ones, however. Near the end of the show, for instance, Violet has a drippy duet with her young admirer/love interest Joe (Andy Karl) called "Let Love Grow." Each of the leads gets at least one big number. Janney commands the stage in "Violet and the Boys," despite her limited vocal range. Block (who was a terrific Elphaba in Wicked ) does some serious belting in her second-act solo "Get Out and Stay Out." And Hilty ( who has played Glinda in Wicked is especially winning in "Backwoods Barbie."

Hilty looks and sounds a lot like Parton, circa 1980. While her performance might be considered a skillful impersonation, Hilty puts her own spin on the curvaceous Doralee. Janney ( best known for TV's The West Wing) is also well cast as the extremely competent Violet. She displays expert comic timing yet doesn't mimic Tomlin, who has a very different comic sensibility. Like Fonda, Block has to rein in her confidence as the timid Judy. Block's relatively subdued acting and singing in the first act makes her second-act blossoming even more effective.

Patricia Resnick wrote the book, which preserves many of the movie's zingers and tries to be current with references to 21st-century corporate misconduct. Mantello's staging includes frequent, often clever use of the stage-center elevator. But the constantly moving set, along with the always-on-the-go dancers, makes this feminist feel-good show busier and more hyper than it needs to be. Mantello throws in elements from the movie and other musicals while making sure all the principals and supporting players ( including Kathy Fitzgerald as Roz, the office snitch) get their time to shine. Although there are pleasures to be had during its two and a half hours, 9to 5 ultimately feels formulaic. It's also rather tacky. ( Not one but two musical numbers take place in office restrooms.)

Thanks to the perky tunes and likable leading ladies, 9 to 5 may turn out to be a crowd-pleaser. But, it would have been<