That ’70s musical

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WE WILL SURVIVE | Doralee (Diana DeGarmo), Violet (Dee Hoty) and Judy (Mamie Parris) take on the boss in ‘9 to 5: The Musical.’

Office politics and country music combine for ‘9 to 5,’ a Dolly’d-up women’s lib throwback

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The plot of 9 to 5: The Musical hews closely to the film: Three working girls (we called them “girls” back then) — experienced professional secretary Violet (Dee Hoty), typing pool bombshell Doralee (Diana DeGarmo) and a workforce newcomer, recent divorcee Judy (Mamie Parris) — endure the butt slaps, passed-by promotions and office gossip endemic to the “man’s world” of big business. They were stooped over from touching the glass ceiling before we had that term.

When lowlife CEO Mr. Hart (Joseph Mahowald) threatens to have them all fired, they kidnap him and stage a coup-d’etat, running the company via memo the way they want it run. Of course it is a smashing success, with employees and shareholders. Of course they keep their jobs and Mr. Hart gets his. Of course, of course, of course.

That’s actually kind of a good thing. Many stage adaptations of movies swing wildly away from the source material, so this is a comforting, surprisingly tight rendering of a well-worn plot, interspersed with a variety of Dolly Parton-penned songs, several with distinct country flair (but not all). Dolly even makes a video appearance as the narrator. 9 to 5 is a perfectly palatable, even enjoyable musical comedy, a lightweight feminist screed against big business that wouldn’t offend anyone who doesn’t have a talk show or Fox News or who is not named Trump.

What the show isn’t is a standout in any measurable way. It could be an office version of The Producers, but it lacks memorable hooks and enough punch to hit a home run.

DeGarmo flexed some acting muscle, affecting a Betty Boopish voice that sounds more like Butters from South Park than Dolly clone, and as American Idol loyalists know, she can sing. It’s Parris, though, who gets the 11-o’clock number, “Get Out and Stay Out,” an anthemic power ballad that rivals “I Will Survive” for sheer defiance.

But Hoty, a Broadway star, underwhelms in what is the de facto leading role. She’s all glum sarcasm and self-pitying, long-suffering smugness. She and the other leads have a ball on the Act 1 closer, “Shine Like the Sun,” but along with Mahowald as the overdrawn villain, she’s a disappointment.

So is the set. “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap,” Dolly Parton is fond of saying about her signature trailer-trash-won-the-Lotto look of boobs, bleach and bangles. On that basis, I can only imagine that the scenery — mostly comprised of rotating-paneled columns that look like port-a-potties on rollers — must have cost a fortune.

For Dolly fans, hearing an album’s worth of new songs (even sung by someone other than her) and the recorded cameo may be worth it alone, but, like the company dental plan, it leaved you wanting more for what you’re paying.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 27, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas