Say what you want about the whole movies-into-musicals madness, sometimes it actually works. Well, perhaps not always perfectly. Such shows as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Wedding Singer, and Legally Blonde may not be masterpieces, but they do represent reasonably entertaining nights in the theater, albeit in descending order of quality.
Well, we can now add 9 to 5 to that list, upon which it ranks just below Legally Blonde. The score, by one Dolly Parton, comprises a lackluster series of songs with unmemorable tunes and egregious use of slant rhyme. The only song with any staying power, other than the title song, is Stephanie J. Block's eleven-o-clock anthem, "Get Out and Stay Out," although I have a feeling this song will not hold up to repeated listening.
The book -- by Patricia Resnick, who wrote the original "Nine to Five" movie upon which the musical is based -- is reasonably entertaining, although it definitely reflects the work of someone who hasn't written musical theater before. Someone schooled in the form would know enough not to write scenes that require such immediate costume and scenery changes, necessitating pointless crossovers, superfluous dance, and meaningless reprises to fill the interstitial stage time.
Let's forget for the moment that the show involves three women who kidnap another human being and tie him up in his own home. Even if you accept that ridiculous premise, the show doesn't even capitalize on the farcical potential therein. It's a shame, because in the right hands the property itself would have made a great musical. The famous movie scene with the marijuana-induced revenge fantasies represented a tailor-made series of musical numbers in the making, but Parton and Resnick have squandered the inherent comedic possibilities with bland, unfocused songs and bits that never reach their comic potential. However, the scene leading up to this time-wasting series of songs is absolutely hysterical, thanks to the prodigious talents of the three central women.
The delightful Allison Janney is a musical-comedy revelation, demonstrating crackerjack timing and a natural presence that completely overshadow her admitted vocal limitations. More than holding their own in Janney's wake are Stephanie J. Block, who has a history of working overtime to make bad material palatable (cf. The Pirate Queen), and Megan Hilty, who does a terrific Dolly Parton impersonation. I don't necessarily mean that as a diss: Hilty is an absolute pleasure to watch, although her actual performance is about as original as Rachel York's Leslie Anne Warren impersonation in Victor/Victoria. In both cases, we have very talented women falling victim to creators who didn't trust them enough to forge unique characterizations.
Other than the middling score and atavistic book, the main culprit here is director Joe Mantello, who is now officially the most overrated director on Broadway. Mantello's lame attempts at bolstering the weak book with vulgar shtick and empty stage business fall utterly flat. It's beginning to look as though Mantello shot his wad with Wicked; he's going to have to come up with something great pretty soon to win back his reputation as Broadway's go-to guy.
Another major liability on the production staff is choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, whose work here is laughably inappropriate. Blankenbuehler's dynamic pop-and-lock style worked perfectly for the sanitized street urchins of In the Heights, but it's woefully out of place here, executed by dowdy secretaries and doughy men in three-piece suits. Yeah, the '70s were funky, but it wasn't the pasty white people who were getting down, as it were.
I've heard from numerous friends and students about how much fun they had at this show. There's certainly a lot of energy onstage, and the cast is more than worth the price of admission. (Provided you get a discount ticket, which apparently many people have been doing.) But as regards quality musical theater, 9 to 5 doesn't quite add up.