Friday, May 1, 2009

9 to 5


Book by Patricia Resnick, music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. Directed by Joe Mantello, choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. Marquis Theatre. (CLOSED)

Reviews for this brassy new musical based on the 1980 feminist revenge comedy are genuinely mixed: Even those who love its silly, busy, anything-for-a-laugh aesthetic report misgivings about the direction or the book, while most of those who deplore its crude humor or generic excess note some highlights among Dolly Parton's score or the cast. If there is any rough consensus, it is that the non-singing, non-dancing Allison Janney is nevertheless brilliant as put-upon office manager Violet; critics diverge on her co-stars Megan Hilty and Stephanie Block, though a number find Marc Kudisch's lecherous boss a lot of fun. Most critics expect it to be a hit, though they're divided on whether Joe Mantello's direction and Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography are fizzy and fun or heavy-handed and lead-footed, and they're similarly split on the merits of Parton's score.

The Guardian A
(Ed Pilkington) If the theme still rings true, so does the taut dialogue, with several of the best one-liners preserved from 1980...The acting is consistently sharp and to the point...But there is no doubt as to who the real star of the show is, however: Dolly Parton. She is not on stage, but her presence fills it. She has composed a set of songs, accompanied with her own lyrics, that complement the original song. The greatest triumph of the night was that the film has been reinvented as a musical so successfully. It seemed improbable, given the cult status of the movie, but the stage show has met it and raised it, rather than being its pale imitation.

Bloomberg News A-
(John Simon) As slap-happily silly as can be, “9 to 5” has abundant, often demotically tasteless gags; a goodly array of standard-issue songs; and far-flung, hard-working choreography. Also three droll women (admittedly only one sexpot) in the leads, along with one smoothly villainous leading man and an unspoken guarantee of not taxing the brain. Instead, it plunges one into a mindlessly passive euphoria...It is very much a feminist daydream, every secretary’s harbored revenge on a swinish employer...However personable as a country and western icon, Parton is not a Broadway composer-lyricist. Only for Doralee, whom she portrayed in the movie, was she able to write not generically but in character. Still, people who find Sondheim too much are apt to revel in pleasure here...Joe Mantello, doubtless aware of the material’s thinness, has directed with palliative frenzy, abetted by Scott Pask’s scenery that sprouts and sinks, as agitated as the feverishly racing humans.

New York Post B+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Goofily entertaining...Each of the female leads delivers, but Janney emerges as the most unlikely musical-theater star since...well, is it too early to say Bea Arthur?...Making a welcome return to the stage after years in TV and movies, Janney throws herself into the show with a contagious abandon...It shouldn't surprise anybody [Parton has] taken so well to the stage: She's always been a storyteller first and foremost. Her countrified pop, enhanced by fiddle and pedal-steel guitar, fits perfectly on Broadway. Of all the mainstream artists who've tried their hand at show music in the past few years, she may be the most convincing. Paradoxically, Janney and Parton do better than theater pros like Mantello and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler.

Backstage B+
(Erik Haagensen) George Abbott–style musical comedy is alive and still breathing at the Marquis Theatre. Blessed with a terrific company of comic actors and led by three absolutely stellar performances, 9 to 5 is unquestionably entertaining and likely to be pleasing Broadway audiences for some time. It also has a dexterous physical production that allows it to move like a musical comedy should. If only the creators had applied the legendary Mr. Abbott's rigorous standards, they might have had a show for the ages. Instead, we have to settle for the not inconsiderable pleasures available...9 to 5 aims low and hits its target squarely.

Entertainment Weekly B+
(Simon Vozick-Levinson) By refusing to sand down [its] edges for a Broadway audience, Resnick's book nails the same balancing act as its source material: 9 to 5 remains a laugh-out-loud treatment of very serious issues...Funniest of all might be Marc Kudisch (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) as Franklin Hart Jr., the truly detestable pig of a boss whom the three Consolidated secretaries stumble into kidnapping...Parton's new tunes, meanwhile, are just fine. None of them will likely be entering her greatest-hits canon any time soon, but they advance the musical's plot well enough. And it's tough to complain about any performance that includes not one but two renditions of 9 to 5's title song, still one of Parton's catchiest, cleverest compositions. Seeing the cast sing it out on stage is enough to make any aspiring pop songwriter pour him- or herself a strong cup of ambition.

(Roma Torre) The workaholic of Broadway musicals, trying in every way to entertain its audience with decidedly mixed results...As a musical, "9 To 5" is pretty flimsy stuff but credit is due to a very talented company that works overtime to sell it...The songs are pretty darn good, if not exactly inspired, and in some cases derivative. The dated storyline is a problem...That said, Joe Mantello pulls out all the directorial stops on this sweetly silly musical and he achieves a nifty sleight of hand. He covers up the show's deficiencies with a kaleidoscope of fevered energy. Even the sets dance around and every song seems to get a big production number. The lead performers are wonderful.

Theatermania B
(Andy Propst) Sturdy if essentially unexceptional...Heralds the arrival of a marvelously charismatic leading lady for musical theater: Allison Janney...She simply galvanizes the show as Violet, the no-nonsense secretary who strikes a resounding blow for women's rights in the workplace. True, her singing voice may not be the strongest in the show -- that honor belongs to the iron-lunged Stephanie J. Block as Judy -- but she has both a great sense of tone and rhythm and a grand sense of comic timing that allow Violet's stinging barbs to land explosively and hilariously...Hilty, doing a fine impersonation of Parton, charms consistently...The show, directed with a characteristic edge by Joe Mantello, moves along with whiz-bang efficiency thanks to Scott Pask's automated rolling and rotating scenic design, which perfectly captures the ambiance of the antiseptic workplace...Unfortunately, Parton's score is not particularly memorable.

Newsday B
(Linda Winer) A female-empowerment theme-park musical...lavish and harmless...The squarely old-fashioned show fills a tourist-ready Hollywood slot left vacant by "Legally Blonde" and "Hairspray." The thing feels less created than assembled from recycled musical-comedy components, but Broadway doesn't have one of these right now, and summer approaches. There is a big cast of talented people, including Allison Janney from "The West Wing." She isn't much of a singer or a dancer, but she smartly nails a classic type - the capable-yet-vulnerable big-boned gal - with endearing echoes of Eve Arden and Rosalind Russell...The show is a little bit country and a little bit "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Parton's songs are more than functional, with short, unpredictable phrase lengths and an apt mix of the plaintive and the shrewd.

Curtain Up B
(Elyse Sommer) I found the staging too razzly-dazzly, the dancing too hyper-kinetic, the singing over-miked and the overall more brassy than artful. That said, while it may not be as artistic or have the long running bring-the-whole-family appeal of The Lion King or the more recent movie-cum-musical, Billy Elliot, Nine to Five has enough going for it to fill the seats of the huge Marquis theater for a decent run...Parton's score, with its mix of country, rockabilly and Broadway-ish ballads, adds to the sense of visiting a beloved old friend...Hilty's Parton-essque Doralee twangs delightfully, and Stephanie J. Block showcases a lovely voice, especially when she lets her faithless, weaselly husband to "Get Our and Stay Out." But the big surprise and delight is Allison Janney.

Village Voice B-
(Michael Feingold) Songwriter Dolly Parton's honest, simple-hearted good sense comes through clearly, empowering the four terrific performers in the lead roles: Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, and Megan Hilty as the variously victimized office gals, and Marc Kudisch as the preening boss they all abominate. Unhappily, other aspects of the show—a lackluster book, busy-busy direction, and bland choreography—only hinder these hard-working folk, and the story's tricksy, urbanized comic tone makes a bad match for Parton's country-bred sincerity. Her talent needs, and deserves, a more heartfelt tale to tell.

Variety B-
(David Rooney) The popular 1980 fem-powerment farce about three renegade secretaries who turn the tables on their chauvinistic boss was driven by three iconic performances, and the women who step into those heels here do dandy work re-creating those characters with enough freshness to rise above mere imitation. If the material showcasing the trio is an uneven cut-and-paste job that struggles to recapture the movie's giddy estrogen rush, plenty of folks will nonetheless find this a nostalgic crowd-pleaser. The other big ace up the show's sleeve is Dolly Parton...As composer-lyricist of the country-flavored pop score, Parton is a significant presence as well, not just in the evergreen title tune but particularly in a handful of new songs...Other key creative elements are hit and miss. Patricia Resnick's book wisely conserves the movie's best jokes and sticks to the 1979 setting. But the antic plotting lacks flow...Director Joe Mantello and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler bring their own set of problems.

Associated Press B-
(Michael Kuchwara) Durn. You kinda want "9 to 5: The Musical" to be better than it is. Not that you won't have fun...It's a certified crowd-pleaser...You won't mistake Parton's words and music for the works of Stephen Sondheim, yet she has a simple, direct way with lyrics and a beguiling sense of melody...But Parton hasn't been served well by her director Joe Mantello, who pushes the musical and book writer Patricia Resnick's overstuffed cartoon of a story at a furious pace. For much of the evening, everything is played in the key of frantic, as if the director were afraid to let the show slow down, catch its breath and let us really get to know the three women who kidnap their sexist pig of a boss. And when the women are played by a talented trio of ladies such as Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty that's a shame...Best of all is Block, as the neophyte office worker (the Jane Fonda part in the movie), who...delivers the evening's big anthem: "Get Out and Stay Out"...And we haven't even gotten to Kudisch, the chauvinistic boss who finds himself at the mercy of the avenging females. His performance is riotously on target, both physically and vocally.

The Daily News C+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) What's fresh and original are Dolly Parton's bouncy, big-hearted songs, which accompany the familiar title tune...Not every tune is a home run, and some lyrics are too plain-spoken. But enough of them stand out...Unfortunately, Joe Mantello's direction...careens from full-of-life to DOA, including a poorly realized scene with a dead body in a hospital. The creative team, including writer Patricia Resnick, who co-authored the film, has struggled to open the show up for the stage...Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler ("In the Heights") has pounced hard on the notion that the boss is a jerk, but the many herky-jerky dances get repetitive and distracting...If you're looking for a little diversion, it will do the trick from 8 to 10:15.

Chicago Tribune C+
(Chris Jones) Like many musicals spawned from movies, “9 to 5” doesn’t establish a cohesive theatrical pallet, nor does it unleash itself sufficiently from its cinematic source. It also doesn’t trust its own retro setting or embrace its own storytelling, and ultimately dissolves into a digitally enhanced and over-produced re-creation of famous scenes from the film. And with the honorable exception of the lovable ballad “Backwoods Barbie,” Parton’s charming, autobiographical, country ode to how neither a rural origin nor a Double D-Cup prevents a sharp mind, there is nothing in Parton’s score that comes anywhere close to the Academy Award-nominated title song...“9 to 5” has its enjoyments—many of which flow from the lips of the deliciously sardonic Janney, who is such a great comedic actress one forgives her lack of a singing voice...The show is wholly harmless and will have its fans, especially among its target demographic. But neither the lyrics nor Patricia Resnick’s choppy book really let us get to know these women. The show is at its best when the characters dance.

New York C
(Stephanie Zacharek) Has particular relevance now; unfortunately, 9 to 5 just milks it too hard. The songs are by Dolly Parton, an indisputable goddess of country music. Yet aside from the uncannily catchy title song, only one number (“Backwoods Barbie,” sung by Hilty, whose whole performance is an overextended Dolly impersonation) comes close to capturing the spirit of classic Dolly; the rest are of the generic talk-singing variety that clutter so many contemporary musicals. The dance numbers, too, substitute garishness for energy. They have an entropic quality, as if born of the fear that the audience will get bored. Janney, at least, offers relief from all this relentless entertainment...Mostly, though, watching 9 to 5 is drudgery. Having fun shouldn’t be so exhausting.

Time Out NY C
(Adam Feldman) 9 to 5 is a musical about working women, and it is nothing if not workmanlike...This expensively staged but cheaply conceived new show is the Broadway equivalent of a corporate drone. It’s professional, it’s efficient, and it gets the job done, more or less. But its Broadway twist on 1970s feminism—I am woman, hear me belt—seems less about liberation than marketing...Director Joe Mantello keeps everything moving—there are plenty of set changes, and smartly stressed-out choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler...But there’s no spark of joy in the somewhat dated sisterhood-is-powerful message. The movie’s feminist revenge-fantasy plot gave it a touch of satirical kick; the musical just punches the clock.

Wall Street Journal C
(Terry Teachout) "9 to 5" is a Big Mac musical, a surprise-free entertainment machine based on a hit movie. Buy a ticket and you don't have to guess what you'll be getting: You already know, right down to the number of pickles on the sesame-seed bun that is Joe Mantello's ultraefficient staging. From start to finish, it does what it's supposed to do -- and no more...Urban theatergoers may not know that Ms. Parton is one of the best country songwriters in the business. The new numbers that she's written for "9 to 5," sad to say, are slick and untheatrical. Every time the actors start singing, the action screeches to a halt. Andy Blankenbuehler's pointlessly busy choreography seems to have been designed to cover up the dramatic inertness of the score: The dancers never stop moving. (Neither do the sets.) The one good reason to see "9 to 5" is Allison Janney...I'd love to see her as Desirée in the upcoming Broadway revival of "A Little Night Music."

Talkin' Broadway C
(Matthew Murray) Of all the direct film-to-stage adaptations of late, 9 to 5 is perhaps the most accomplished and the least surprising...both the most reverent and the least enlivening in the genre, with most of the intelligence of the film but practically none of its sparkling individuality...Parton’s songs...[are] undistinguished...Only Judy’s 11-o’clock spot, “Get Out and Stay Out,” is legitimately exciting...Kudisch is, well, Kudisch, and overdoes his insensitive-guy shtick, but no one overdoes it better. Janney comes across best, just as Tomlin did...Neither Janney nor anyone else is always well served by either Mantello’s cheese-spreading direction or Blankenbuehler’s choreography.

The Hollywood Reporter C-
(Frank Scheck) Slavishly faithful to the film except for the addition of its new Parton-penned score, this overblown musical is bound to cause a division between critics looking for freshness and audience members all too eager for theatrical comfort food...The show signals the witless vulgarity of much of its humor in the opening song--depicting various anonymous figures tiredly preparing for their workday, with one man sporting a prominent morning woody...Parton's songs are, like most of the prolific tunesmith's efforts, eminently catchy and listenable. But few of them resonate strongly in theatrical terms...Also problematic is Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography, clearly inspired by "How to Succeed in Business" and featuring little more than variations of office workers jerking around in formation while going through their duties.

The New York Times D
(Ben Brantley) Gaudy, empty...Feels assembled by an emulous shopaholic who looked around at the tourist-drawing hits of the last decade and said: “I want some of that. And that. Ooh, and can I have that, too?”...This show isn’t about its stars. It’s about turning its feminist revenge story into an occasion for lewd slapstick...and a mail-order catalog of big production numbers, filtered through that joyless aesthetic that pervaded the 1970s. The show lumbers through its two and a half hours in a blur of heavy moving scenery (by Scott Pask), animated projections (by Peter Nigrini and Peggy Eisenhauer), sour-candy-color lighting (by Jules Fisher and Kenneth Posner) and costumes (by William Ivey Long) that reminds us that the Carter years were the nadir of 20th-century fashion...Ms. Parton’s score...includes some rockabilly raunch, rhythm-and-blues riffs, a likable song of self-explanation for Doralee (“Backwoods Barbie”) and a standard-issue anthem of empowerment called “Get Out and Stay Out.”

AM New York D
(Matt Windman) While faint hints of a crowd-pleaser occasionally occur, sitting through this faithful adaptation feels as tiresome as a long day at the office...Though Dolly Parton has penned 18 new songs, none can compare with the film’s catchy title song, which serves as an upbeat opening number. In fact, the songs tend to slow down the plot rather than advance it. The blame for the show’s overwhelming mediocrity probably lies Joe Mantello’s lazy and unimaginative direction. It would appear that he merely modeled the show after “Wicked,” which he directed five years ago, and hoped that it would somehow turn into the same kind of girl-power hit. Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography is frenetically excessive and distracting.

Lighting & Sound America D
(David Barbour) Stops at nothing while pandering to its target audience. The creators have hitched any number of dated sex comedy gags to a full complement of female-empowerment ballads in what looks to me like a shameless attempt to come up with the next big girls-night-out hit, à la Mamma Mia! But where the latter show benefits from a certain style and a knowing, self-mocking sense of humor, 9 to 5 has only more shopworn goods to offer...As everyone knows, Dolly Parton, who wrote the score, is an enduring star, possessed of considerable skills as a composer and lyricist. But a knack for expressing your personality in pop tunes isn't the same thing as writing songs for the purposes of character or narrative. Here, she relies on a country-flavored pop style that only occasionally seems appropriate to the characters or setting...It's common wisdom to describe a show like 9 to 5 as theatrical comfort food; there's nothing wrong with that, but it's too bad that the menu consists almost entirely of leftovers.

The Guardian A 13; Bloomberg News A- 12; New York Post B+ 11; Backstage B+ 11; Entertainment Weekly B+ 11; NY1 B 10; Theatermania B 10; Newsday B 10; Curtain Up B 10; VV B- 9; Variety B- 9; Associated Press B- 9; The Daily News C+ 8; Chicago Tribune C+ 8; TONY C 7; WSJ C 7; NY mag C 7; Talkin' Broadway C 7; The Hollywood Reporter C- 6; The New York Times D 4; AM New York D 4; LS&A D 4; TOTAL: 187 / 22 = 8.5 (B-/C+)

1 comment:

Monica said...

Um, you left out Terry Teachout's review. Which, notably, had hamburger metaphors to convey his views on the play.