TAMPA — The producers of 9 to 5: The Musical don't seem to have much confidence in the show itself. Instead, they have hitched their fortunes to Dolly Parton, a star of the 1980 movie, who also wrote music and lyrics for the musical.
The show opens and closes with videos of Parton, which kind of undercuts the point of live theater. Her pitch at the end is especially grating, with the cast appearing to pay homage to her oversized image on film, like supplicants to a down-home Wizard of Oz.
And then there is Doralee, the Parton character in the movie who is being channeled in the musical by Diana DeGarmo, complete with blond wig, hourglass figure and Texas twang. The onetime American Idol finalist did an adorable impersonation of the country music icon in Tuesday's performance at the Straz Center, but isn't there another way to play the misunderstood office bombshell?
The other headliners of the musical are somewhat less slavish knockoffs of their big screen counterparts. With her horsey good looks, Dee Hoty, playing Violet (Lily Tomlin in the movie), is a stylish, witty Eve Arden type, whose handiness with a garage door opener is a key plot turn. Mamie Parris has the Jane Fonda role as Judy, newly divorced and entering the workforce for the first time. Naturally, she is assigned the worst job in the office, having to deal with the unreliable Xerox machine.
9 to 5 works hard to overcome its biggest drawback, which is being hopelessly dated to anyone younger than 40. The stage curtain functions as an honor roll of 1970s kitsch, spattered with pictures of Burt Reynolds, Cher, Rod Stewart, the Village People, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, a smiley face and pet rock. There isn't a computer in sight at Consolidated Industries, and the glass ceiling is firmly in place, with the women toiling as lowly secretaries under the heel of their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot of a boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Joseph Mahowald).
Patricia Resnick's book for the musical varies little from her screenplay for the movie, and that leads to problems that begin when the three women get together to smoke pot and let their hair down. What more or less worked onscreen — the revenge fantasies of what each woman would do to Hart, a frantic hospital scene when they think the boss has been poisoned, their stringing him up in a harness above his bed —becomes increasingly incoherent onstage.
Parton's songwriting is at its best in the theme song, of course, as well as Doralee's Backwoods Barbie, Hart's good old boy anthem, Here For You, and Violet's razzle-dazzle CEO number, One of the Boys. On the downside is Judy's generic belter, in which she kisses off her ex-husband, Get Out and Stay Out.
Under Jeff Calhoun's direction and choreography, 9 to 5 resembles other office musicals — How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Promises, Promises, to name a couple — in that there are desks, file cabinets and a copy machine the size of a station wagon sliding on and off the stage. Whenever a big dance number comes along, you can be sure the chorus boys will be high kicking on top of the desks. The orchestra, conducted by Martyn Axe, plays well, but the sound is unrelentingly loud, drowning out the singers at times.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.