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Theater review: '9 to 5: The Musical' national tour at Segerstrom Center for the Arts

May 11, 2011 |  1:34 pm

9to5 The musical "9 to 5" works hard to entertain, and with a bunch of new managers in place for its national tour, it delivers dependable if not stellar results.

At Segerstrom Center for the Arts through Sunday, the show is making its only scheduled visit to the region where it underwent its pre-Broadway training.    

Its new honcho is director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun, known in the Southland for his stagings of Deaf West's "Big River" and "Pippin." His office staff is led by Dee Hoty, a Broadway favorite in such shows as "City of Angels" and "The Will Rogers Follies," and Diana DeGarmo, the runner-up in "American Idol's" third season.

Calhoun is given less technology than his predecessors, director Joe Mantello and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, whose work was seen at the Ahmanson Theatre in fall 2008. The movements of a gliding, self-transforming set at the Ahmanson were tightly coordinated with projections and with a cast in constant motion. Once some persistent technical glitches were worked out, the whole production seemed to dance.

The touring set, by new designer Kenneth Foy, transforms too, but now the changes are facilitated by rolling cabinets, the side panels of which can be flipped to reveal two-dimensional scenic backdrops. Cast members roll the cabinets into place, their activity coordinated so that one scene moves seamlessly into the next. Calhoun's version, like the original, has a nice flow, and it clocks in at a taut two hours and 20 minutes.

Still herky-jerky, however, is the larger construction of this movie-to-stage adaptation with country-flavored music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and a book by the movie's co-screenwriter, Patricia Resnick.

Workers everywhere can rally behind the story told in the 1980 movie and repeated here. Yes, it's larger than life, what with its trio of glass-ceiling-blocked women taking their sexist boss hostage and aerially immobilizing him via a repurposed garage door opener.

But there's some emotional heft too. In the musical, this is achieved by song pile-ups that generate  genuine feeling. Act 1's pile-up is the better of the two. It begins with "I Just Might" (added after L.A.), an inspirational anthem that, at the peak of its steady build, lets the amber-honey alto of Hoty (in the Lily Tomlin role), the pipeline of sound from DeGarmo (in the Parton role) and the power singing of Mamie Parris (in the Jane Fonda role) take flight. DeGarmo, doing a lovable Parton impersonation, follows that up with a heartfelt rendition of "Backwoods Barbie."

The show doesn't trust itself, though. In trying to be all things to all people, it keeps undercutting emotion with broad comedy or with a too obviously calculated song.

Somebody give this show an employee appreciation mug. But you won't be giving it your heart. That's something it still doesn't quite earn.

RELATED

Theater review: '9 to 5: The Musical' at the Ahmanson Theatre

'9 to 5' Previews Pushed Back

-- Daryl H. Miller

"9 to 5: The Musical," Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $20 to $80. (714) 556-2787 or www.scfta.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Photo: From left, Diana DeGarmo, Dee Hoty and Mamie Parris in the national tour of "9 to 5: The Musical." Credit: Joan Marcus

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