Pig dangles from glass ceiling

by

comment

There was never anything profound about the comedy or the politics of 9 to 5 from the day it first hit the silver screen 30 years ago, and to accuse the confection of philosophy would be as ridiculous as finding subtlety in L’il Abner. Yet the Patricia Resnick storyline has always spoken to women because it really needed three female icons – Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton – to fill the breadth of individuality represented by the story’s triumvirate of secretarial heroines.

Violet Newstead is the office supervisor who has been repeatedly passed over for a promotion in favor of the men she has trained. Newly arrived at the office with no marketable skills, Judy Bernly has been compelled to join the workforce after her husband has left her – to pursue his secretary. Hired for her looks, Doralee Rhodes is the embodiment of the pursued secretary, branded as a slut even though she has never surrendered to her hypocritical, sexist, bigoted, chauvinist pig boss, Franklin Hart.

Hart is as boorish toward Violet as he is toward Doralee, if not as physical, so circumstances inevitably bridge the misunderstanding between the two women. With Judy tagging along, the three women are sharing fantasies – after lustily sharing a joint – before the end of Act 1. Common theme of those fantasies: wreaking vengeance upon Hart. When Violet accidently spoons rat poison into Hart’s coffee instead of sugar, fantasy suddenly escalates into reality.

As a songwriter, Parton proved she could fill out the songlist needed to transform 9 to 5 from a film to a musical as effortlessly as she fills a D-cup. Resnick took the screenplay director Colin Higgins had written, and crafted a book that was ill-served by the 2009 Broadway production directed by Joe Mantello. Hart’s chauvinism and humiliation – harnessed and hanging from the ceiling like a carcass in a slaughterhouse – were so overdone that he became a cartoon. Mantello was so apathetic toward Parton’s lyrics that, in the climactic power song, Judy absurdly blocked her ex-husband from leaving by the front door while repeatedly wailing at him, “Get Out and Stay Out!”

For me to believe claims that the show had been overhauled and improved for the road, under the direction of Jeff Calhoun, those major blemishes needed to vanish. Done deal.

Singing one less song in Act 2, Joseph Mahowald does seem less rabid in his chauvinism as Hart than Marc Kudisch was on Broadway. Though the punishment was the same at Ovens Auditorium, less scenery and humiliation have been applied to the ceiling spectacle. You didn’t see Mahowald’s bare legs flailing out wildly, thank heavens. And Judy’s penitent ex discreetly makes his exit toward the beginning of “Get Out!” giving Mamie Parris the opportunity to make a far more powerful impression in the role than Stephanie Block did in 2009.

As Violet, Allison Janney was more the star of the Broadway show than Dee Hoty is on the road. Janney brought a professional take-charge crispness to the role, and her Violet rightfully earned her the second Tony nom of her career. But Hoty is just as angular, chic, and crisp – and she brings considerably more Broadway experience (including three Tony noms) to the table. Better voice, too.

The only significant comedown in this fine road production is Diana DeGarmo as luscious Doralee Rhodes. Notwithstanding her undeniable artistic stature as American Idol 3 runner-up, DeGarmo was often unintelligible onstage, pursuing a backwoods accent I couldn’t get a handle on any better than she. Was it Tammy Grimes, Eartha Kitt, or Betty Boop? Relief came when DeGarmo burst into song, convincingly replicating Dolly.

And there were actually several hellos from Dolly, who served as our bigger-than-life narrator in pre-recorded segments projected onto a round clockface that hovered over the action. Purists may have been appalled, but the response from Parton’s fan base proved that we are within hollerin’ distance of Dollywood.

Add a comment