Friday, June 3, 2011

Theatre review: "9 to 5, the Musical" presented by Pittsburgh CLO

Pittsburgh CLO has opened its new season with something somebody else produced, the national tour of 9 to 5 The Musical. That there would be a tour is surprising; the show was not a hit on Broadway in 2009, running for just four months and collecting mostly negative reviews, although the stars got praise and a few Tony nominations.

Clearly the script with its sitcom-like obviousness doesn’t have much to offer, despite a potentially meaningful premise. The cast displays a lot of energetic, sincere talent, making the most of the material. You can admire the singing and dancing skills of everyone, the sturdy playing of the score by a small orchestra led by Martyn Axe and Kenneth Foy’s clever sets. Meanwhile Dolly Parton’s songs have a lively country and/or pop feel, more simple than complex, appropriate to the show, agreeable enough, if not memorable.

This is based on the 1980 hit movie, which certainly could have resonated those 30 years ago. A new take could be a cute trip down memory lane. This version skims that, as it skims everything else. Patricia Resnick’s book looks like a paste-up with no point of view. Too bad. The underlying isues are about women in the work force being exploited, undervalued and underpaid, premises which,if well-developed, could go to interesting, creative places. Moreover the three central women have lives with potential for development. The first act keeps re-stating these themes decorated with numerous, gratuitous production numbers. The second act has a little more substance. But the whole thing relies on superficial, not particularly funny nor imaginative situations, peppered with primitive laugh lines. Certainly some of this derives from Resnick’s original screenplay, yet you’d think she, or the producers or director Jeff Calhoun would have found ways to come up with something fresh.

40-something Violet is a widow who’s been working for a long time without hope of advancement within a very large corporation. Blonde, noticeably breasted Texan Doralee Rhodes is a secretary for big boss Franklin Hart Jr. who lusts after her. And newcomer to the office na├»ve Judy is recently divorced. The three plot against sleazy, chauvinist Hart and eventually kidnap him and take over the office in his name, improving the working conditions for the women working there.

Doralee is evidently modeled on Dolly Parton; she had that role in the film. In this case Resnick seems to be trying to make a case that being blonde and shapely doesn’t mean Dorelee is a ditz. But, since there are several pointed references to her superstructure, milking that for all it’s worth, and Doralee never expounds on any profundities, you just have to take it on faith that inside she’s got a mind just bubbling with ideas. In this role Diana DeGarmo, one time runner-up in “American Idol,” proves she can sing and dance with professional polish equal to anybody in the cast, but doesn’t come across with any specific personality.

Like the other leads she is called upon to belt out numbers which could double as calling in livestock from across the valley. Dee Hoty as Violet also gets her turn, knocking out the notes to the back rows, countering Violet’s potential for maturity. Hoty actually conveys substance much of the time, even though the role calls for her to get stuck in shtick. Mamie Parris gets Judy’s equal shot in the spotlight but, like DeGarmo, nobody seems home inside that body. There’s another entry into the all- stops -out stuff. This is assigned to Kristine Zbornik as Roz Keith, some kind of not clearly defined special secretary to Hart. She’s an older woman with a crush on Hart, setting up another potential for patent humor.

There’s also a falling -down-drunk woman in the office staff, more juvenalia. How she’s kept her job never gets explained. Plus, unexplained,Hart never fires or puts down back-talking Violet. More, among Resnick’s other sloppy writing, it’s revealed that Hart has been cooking the books, information on the verge of being spilled to CEO Russell Tinsworthy when something else develops and the subject is dropped unexplained. By the way, I don’t know if “CEO,” back in 1980 was a term in common usage, but since anachronisms keep turning up in the dialogue, sometimes acknowledged, laugh, laugh, sometimes ignored, it can serve as another more example of why, justifiably, this show failed to wow New York critics.

Director Calhoun had major work cut out for him. He didn’t succeed. Don’t blame the performers. They earn their salaries. When you’re an actor and you want to stay in the business, sometimes you need to take what you can get.

9 to 5 The Musical continues through 2 p.m. Sunday June 5th at Benedum Center. 412-456-6666 or the Box Office at Theater Square or www.pittsburghCLO.org. ,

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