Review: 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL

“Stumble out of bed and tumble to the kitchen, pour myself a cup of ambition…” No, that wasn’t me yesterday morning, those are the lyrics of that iconic song “9 to 5”.

On Wednesday, June 29th, I attended the opening of 9 to 5: THE MUSICAL, based on the movie which also boasts the song.  This touring show was brought to Toronto by Dancap Productions and is on at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts until July 10th.

So I will out myself here and now – I love me some Dolly Parton.  I wasn’t always a fan.  I used to associate Dolly with, well, songs like “9 to 5”, “Islands in the Stream” and copious boob jokes from grade 3.

Then I met Tim, my companion for the evening.  Tim introduced me to her truly great songwriting, songs like “Little Sparrow”, “Coat of Many Colours” (which makes me cry each and every time I listen to it), and the famous “Jolene”.  Dolly’s version of Collective Soul’s “Shine” is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard, complete with a banjo.  So we trotted into the theatre with unbridled Dolly enthusiasm.

We weren’t disappointed.  Another outing myself moment – we’ve both been to Dollywood, Dolly’s theme park in Tennessee.  In fact, I spent Christmas there last year.  I bring this up because the play begins much like many of the attractions at Dollywood, with a pre-recorded Dolly who narrates the plot.

It makes sense that it begins this way since Dolly wrote all of the music.  She is a true storyteller and musically gifted – I especially love the story about how she wrote “9 to 5”; the beat was inspired by the sound of women’s nails on the typewriter.

So the story is true to the movie, with lots of “wink wink” types anachronistic references to things and expressions that didn’t yet exist when the original movie was made – like the term “24/7” and answering machines.  There is even the line:  “Just do it…hey…that could be a great slogan one day.”  Hold for the laugh.

Although the content isn’t exactly family-friendly (I remember not seeing the movie because it was rated R) it isn’t terribly cutting edge.  This musical is a PG–13 version of the script with characters painted broader than billboards and tons of obvious jokes and slapstick.

It is more of a musical nod to a time period than it is a comment on the women’s movement. In fact there is a joke about spelling women “womyn”.  I kind of missed some of the activism that inspired the original script.  There is no nod to the fact that these issues actually persist in the workplace today (or if there was, it was lost on me).  They’ve kept the comedy, but that’s it.

The performances are truly Broadway caliber and it is worth seeing this first national tour for that reason.  Dee Hoty takes on Lily Tomlin’s Violet (a role originated by Allison Janney on Broadway).  Mamie Parris takes the role of Jane Fonda’s Judy, helpful for moving the plot along but as interesting as a bowl of milk.

Diana DeGarmo (who was a past American Idol contestant) shoots it out of the park as Dolly’s Doralee.  The chauvinistic boss is played by a very skilled Joseph Mahowald and his aged assistant is taken on by Kristine Zbornik. Zbornik brought the house down with “Heart to Hart” where she nearly masturbates on the boss’s photo.  It’s that “ugly woman being sexy” shtick that never gets old – the crowd roared.

I thought the cast was fantastic.  At first I thought Mahowald was too young for the role but he had the comedic chops to make up for it and managed to make the villain endearing.  Mamie does her absolute best to make an uninteresting role sympathetic, not an easy task.

Hoty works her butt off to create an amazingly strong and hilarious Violet, and DeGarmo is the crowd favourite as Doralee – she has been given the best lines and her Dolly impression is so spot on its hard to remember that she isn’t a caricature but how Dolly actually is.  It was great to see three women as the leads onstage.

Speaking of Dolly – she’s done an amazing job with the music.  Other than the title song, “Shine like the Sun” and “Backwoods Barbie” stood out as two Dollyesque classics (“Backwoods Barbie” was a song she borrowed back to create her 40th album of the same title).

The visual and musical highlights of the show are the fantasy scenes depicting how each woman would kill the boss. Judy’s character envisions a jazzy tribute to film noir, Doralee imagines hog tying and branding the boss in a country showdown (the most hilarious moment of the show in both my and Tim’s opinion) and Violet envisions a fairytale scenario where she treats him to rat poison.

With Dolly’s lighthearted music and costumes that have no choice but to look like polyester relics, this musical needs choreography to make it truly soar.   Unfortunately, I didn’t think it was able to deliver in this department.  There is some musical movement but that’s it.  It’s disappointing for a production of this scale.  Tim and I exited the theatre saying this quite literally at the same time, so I am sure we weren’t the only ones thinking it.

Dancing or no dancing, this show is Dolly-licious!  She is there with you from beginning to end and I will hazard a guess that this show might just end up as one of the many great shows in her theme park.  Yes, there is some obvious artifice and it is painted in broad strokes but hey – that’s Dolly. As she says at the end, “If you don’t like it, keep your big mouth shut.” She’ll make you laugh, smile, and sing along and that alone is definitely worth the price of admission.


Runs from June 29th until July 10th at The Toronto Centre for the Arts
Presented by Dancap Productions
Tickets are available online or at 416-644-3665
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes; 20 minute intermission
Tickets range from $40 to $65