Stephanie J. Block, Allison Janney, and Megan Hilty
in 9 to 5: The Musical
(© Craig Schwartz)
Stephanie J. Block, Allison Janney, and Megan Hilty
in 9 to 5: The Musical
(© Craig Schwartz)
9 to 5: The Musical, the new adaptation of the hit 1980 film now getting its pre-Broadway world premiere at the Ahmanson Theater, is a pleasant diversion, made most memorable by the three fantastic female leads: Allison Janney, Megan Hilty, and Stephanie J. Block. While composer-lyricist Dolly Parton, in her first theater outing, has crafted some tuneful songs, too many are mere filler that slow down the comedy, a situation that director Joe Mantello should try to fix before the show comes to New York in the spring.

The book, by the film's original screenwriter Patricia Resnick, closely follows the film's script -- with a few penis and boob jokes thrown in for good measure -- in telling the story of three female officer works, circa 1979. There's Violet (Janney) constantly stomped upon by the less bright boss, Franklin Hart (Marc Kudisch); Judy (Block), the ex-wife joining the workforce late in life; and Doralee (Hilty), the backwoods girl whose sexy exterior causes gossip from the lunchroom. The trio eventually form an alliance against their "sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss and his fascistic assistant and office snoop Roz (Kathy Fitzgerald) and finally make the company world safe for the fairer sex.

Janney doesn't have much a singing voice; but she exudes so much confidence in her numbers that "One of the Boys" -- an homage to "Roxie" (from Chicago) -- actually stops the show; and her deadpan drawl draws many laughs. Block captures all the exuberance of a woman freed from marital prison and finally allowed to grow on her own, and displays her powerful voice on "Get Out and Stay Out." Hilty has a lilting singing voice, and Parton's old dialogue and quips roll off her tongue perfectly.

Kudisch fares less well. Not only does he spend half the show hanging from wires, but his role lacks any nuance. In fact, his portrayal is so cartoonish that it hurts the show's balance. Equally over-baked is Fitzgerald's clownish characterization as Roz. The two actually cackle at a scheme they hatch to ensnare the three leads, making them more reminiscent of Boris and Natasha out to kill Moose and Squirrel than anyone recognizable from a real office.

As enjoyable as the music is, none of the new numbers are as infectious as the title tune, which still brings about a smile when heard 30 years later. And while the Act One finale is a spirited tune, it really has no place in a scene where three women desperately kidnap a man and tie him up. On the other hand, the jovial and athletic dance moves created by choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler (winner of the 2008 Tony Award for In the Heights) are performed aptly by the talented ensemble, adding to the evening's enjoyment.

There is a fun sense of setting reflected in the loud, playful costumes by William Ivey Long, while Scott Pask's ambitious set -- which broke down again on opening night -- is appropriately sterile. (Parton saved the day by leading an audience sing-along during the long technical delay.) But ultimately, the whole enterprise lacks the freshness it needs to make it a truly first-rate musical.