Just Call It Sexual Harrassment Training

Back in 1980, I had a crush on a girl in my Jewish Studies class from Capetown SOUTH AFRICA. I mention this not because I’ll ever see her again (she married a dentist, and to my knowledge still lives in South Africa), but because I always remember seeing two movies with her: Fame and Nine to Five. Of course, this all came back to my mind because this afternoon we went to the Ahmanson Theatre to see “9 to 5 – The Musical.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, 9 to 5 tells the story of a mid-1970s office that produces, well, we’re never told quite what. There is the typical 1970s male chauvanist sexist pig boss, Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman in the movie), who makes life a living hell for his buxom country assistant, Doralee Rhodes (played by Dolly Parton in the movie), his efficient head secretary Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin in the movie), and the new hire, Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda in the movie). Fed up, one night they smoke pot and fantasize about how they would do him in. The next day, they almost mistakenly do it. While attempting to clean up the mess, they kidnap him and hold him prisoner in his house. They then take over running the company in his stead, improving efficiency… until he escapes. In the end, good defeats bad, and everyone gets what they deserve.

As this is a new musical, let’s spend a few minutes on the book and music first, independent of the acting. The book is by Patricia Resnick, author of the original screenplay, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton. The musical book hones very closely to the original screenplay, keeping almost all of the major movie incidents intact (including the fantasy sequence, for those that want to see Allison Janey dressed up like Snow White). It does provide some additional expansion on the home lives of Doralee, Judy, and Violet. For the most part, this works well. I’m not so sure about retaining the epilogue (i.e., what happened to the characters) — it could have just ended with the successful last scene. But on the whole, the story worked well. The music was also quite strong, including the well-known theme song together with newer songs by Parton (which do have the distinctive Parton voice). I liked them, and I look forward to an album from this show. I will note that one song in the show, “One of the Boys”, kept making me think of the song of the same name from the musical “Woman of the Year”. Perhaps it is because they both had similar themes.

The musical also made me do a mental comparison with some other office musicals. The first that comes to mind is “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” which reflected the office environment of the late 1950s/early 1960s: bullpens of desks, with secretaries wanting to marry their bosses (look at the problematic song “Cinderella Darling”)… although it did note that “A Secretary is Not a Toy. In the late 1960s, there was “How Now Dow Jones about a young stockbroker who refuses to marry his fiancee until the Dow Jones Industrials Average reaches 1,000 (as of 1967, the daily average had never yet reached that peak). Another quasi-office musical was “Promises Promises, about a man who lends his apartment to businessmen having affairs in an effort to advance himself in the business world. In short, in these early shows, we had a reflection about how women were viewed in the corporate world. “9 to 5” is the next step, looking at the world in the late 1970s, when women were just starting to assert themselves, and women were realizing they could run companies better than the old boys club (but they still needed to be accepted by it). “Women of the Year” had similar notions. I’m not sure there has been a modern office musical. It should also be noted that many of the office musicals had an office romance at the center of the musical — but not “9 to 5. There was romance, but it was a very minor story — the key story was the strength of women.

Do I think this will succeed on Broadway? I hope so. It certainly has the energy and the joy, and the staging and acting will give the audience what they pay for. I don’t see much needing to be changed, but then again, I didn’t see much needing change in other Broadway bound shows such as 13 or Sister Act that have changed. I wish the production well; I think it will be out in late 2009.

On to the acting, which was superb. As I noted above, the key movie roles were maintained in the musical. Violet Newstead was played by Allison Janney, who we all know from The West Wing. Her performance demonstrated not only her excellent acting and comedic skills, but her strong singing and dancing skills. Doralee Rhodes was played by Megan Hilty (channeling Dolly Parton to a “T”), who as we learned in Wicked has extremely strong singing and acting skills. Judy Bernly was played by Stephanie J. Block, another Wicked alumna with strong singing and dancing skills. Franklin Hart Jr was played by Marc Kurdisch to sexist pig perfection. Other significant characters were Kathy Fitzgerald (Roz), Charlie Pollock (Dwayne, Ensemble), Maia Nkenge Wilson (Anita, Ensemble), Ann Harada (Kathy, Ensemble), Tory Ross (Daphne, Ensemble), Lisa Howard (Missy, Ensemble), Ioana Alfonso (Maria, Ensemble), Andy Karl (Joe), Karen Murphy (Margaret, Ensemble), Van Hughes (Josh, Ensemble), Dan Cooney (Dick, Ensemble), Jeremy Davis (Bob Enright, Ensemble), and Michael X. Martin (Tinsworthy, Ensemble). Other ensemble members were Timothy George Anderson, Justin Bohon, Paul Castree, Autumn Guzzardi, Brendan King, Michael Mindlin, Jessica Lea Patty, Wayne Schroder, and Brandi Wooten. I must mention that the ensemble was especially strong in their singing and dancing, and everyone in the cast seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, which adds to the fun. All actors are members of æ Actors Equity.

Turning to the technical side: the production was a technical marvel, with a full-size LCD backstage providing projection, multiple hydraulic elements moving major pieces up and down, numerous flying units (including Franklin Hart!), and loads of moving lights and scrims. The costumes seems reasonable for the era (much as I can remember), and the wigs were spot on. Credit goes to Scott Pask (Scenic Design), William Ivey Long (Costume Design), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Design), John H. Shivers (Sound Design), Peter Nigrini (Imaging), Paul Huntley (Wig and Hair Design), and Angelina Avallone (Makeup). The production was directed by Joe Mantello, with Dave Solomon as Associate Director. Choreography (which was superb) was by Andy Blankenbuehler, with Rachel Bress as Associate Choreographer. Musical Direction was by Stephen Oremus, with Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin. The production was supervised by William Joseph Barnes, with theatrical supervision by Hudson Theatrical Associates. Stage management was by Timothy R. Semon assisted by Chris Zaccardi. Note: Quite a few of the acting and technical folks have a connection to the musical Wicked, for whatever reason.

You can read nsshere’s review here. She’s written an excellent review, and I encourage you all to read it.

9 to 5 – The Musical” continues at the Ahmanson Theatre until October 19, 2008.

Transit Note: To avoid the mess of parking with the Grand Avenue Festival, we took the MTA Red Line from North Hollywood to the Ahamanson. Very, very smooth, and we’ll likely do it again.

So what’s next on the theatre calendar? Next Sunday (10/5 @ 2pm) is “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East Playhouse in Saugus. Sunday October 12 (2pm) brings “Kiss of the Spider Woman” at the Havok Theatre (Nick DeGruccio, Artistic Director). The next weekend is currently open, for I thought I was going to an event at camp. The next weekend is “The King and I at Cabrillo Music Theatre (I still don’t know if we’re looking forward to seeing youarebonfante after the show, as she is managing the production… and congrats to Cabrillo on their 19 Ovation Nominations). Saturday November 1 @ 8pm brings “Blood Brothers – The Musical” at the Whitefire Theatre. The next weekend is open. The weekend after that (11/15 @ 8pm) is “The Lady With All The Answers” at the Pasadena Playhouse. Still to be ticketed is “Spring Awakening” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale 10/8 — I’ll try for 11/16 @ 1pm). Lastly, I need to remember to explore tickets for “I Love My Wife (Reprise), which only runs 12/2-12/14 — right around the dates of ACSAC.