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'9 to 5: The Musical' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

May 1, 2009 | 10:21 am

9 to 5 the musical

Broadway took a time warp back to the '80s last night for the premiere of "9 to 5: The Musical." The show, based on the popular 1980 film, boasts new songs by Dolly Parton and stars Allison Janney, Megan Hilty, Stephanie Block and Marc Kudisch.

"9 to 5" had its world premiere last September in Los Angeles at the Ahmanson Theatre. In his review, Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote that the musical "has only occasional success in switching on the old fluorescent-lit office magic." He added that Parton has contributed a "fresh if patchy score that mixes country and pop with show-tune garnish."

As you may also recall, the L.A. run had more than its fair share of technical problems. During previews, the show's complicated set frequently broke down, requiring Parton to leap out of her seat, take the mike and perform impromptu singalongs with the audience.

It seems that the producers have worked out the technical kinks in the show's machinery in time for Broadway. But have they succeeded in fixing the creative bugs as well? 

Keep reading to find out ...

Ben Brantley of the New York Times spared no feelings by calling the musical "an overinflated whoopee cushion" and writing that the show "feels assembled by an emulous shopaholic who looked around at the tourist-drawing hits of the last decade and said: 'I want some of that. And that. Ooh, and can I have that, too?' "

Equally unimpressed, Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the show "doesn’t establish a cohesive theatrical pallet, nor does it unleash itself sufficiently from its cinematic source." He added that the production "ultimately dissolves into a digitally enhanced and over-produced re-creation of famous scenes from the film."

Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press called the musical a "mixed bag" but was generally pleased with the songs: "You won't mistake Parton's words and music for the works of Stephen Sondheim, yet she has a simple, direct way with lyrics and a beguiling sense of melody whether it's country twang, gospel, rhythm 'n' blues, power ballad or sentimental love song."

Frank Scheck of the Hollywood Reporter faulted the show's slavish fidelity to the movie. "Anyone who's watched the film on one of its endless late-night television showings will feel little more than a sense of deja vu," he wrote.

Roma Torre of NY1 said in her television review that the show "is pretty flimsy stuff but credit is due to a very talented company that works overtime to sell it." She added that Parton's songs "are pretty darn good, if not exactly inspired, and in some cases derivative."

Meanwhile, David Rooney at Variety also praised the cast, writing that they "do dandy work re-creating those characters with enough freshness to rise above mere imitation." But he added that the story itself is an "uneven cut-and-paste job that struggles to recapture the movie's giddy estrogen rush."

— David Ng

From left, Stephanie J. Block, Allison Janney and Megan Hilty in "9 to 5: The Musical" at the Marriott Marquis Theatre on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus