Tennessee's favorite daughter-the remarkable Dolly Parton-provides the very heart and soul of 9 to 5, the musical comedy adaptation of the iconic 1980 film of the same name, so it should come as no surprise that the show is going to be on view a lot in the coming years as theater companies across the Volunteer State pay homage to (and capitalize on) Dolly with their own productions of the show that premiered on Broadway in 2008 (was it really that long ago that the Great White Way welcomed Dolly to its ranks?) and kicked off a national tour in Nashville a year later.
Now onstage at Dickson's Renaissance Center, in a professional production at The Gaslight Dinner Theatre helmed by Pacer Harp, and featuring a cast of winning performers, 9 to 5: The Musical has Dolly's unmistakably sunny outlook-exemplified by her tuneful score for the show-and Patricia Resnick's sharply drawn characters and situations which are sure to please even the film's most ardent admirers.
Telling the story of Violet, Doralee and Judy, the three characters played to such acclaim in the film by Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda (and on Broadway by Allison Janney, Megan Hilty and Stephanie J. Block), 9 to 5: The Musical focuses on the workplace shenanigans and inter-office hijinks that ensue when the three ladies inadvertently come close to killing their bigoted, sexist and repulsive boss only to end up kidnapping him and holding him hostage in his own home. Yes, the plot is convoluted and almost unbelievable, but somehow Resnick (who wrote the film's screenplay) and Parton succeed in creating a vehicle that is entertaining and diverting, set to a score that will leave you singing your way out of the theater, reflecting on how much fun the show is.
Sure, it's slight and silly, but there's no escaping the fact that 9 to 5: The Musical has a briskly beating heart that both warms and delights you. In that way, it's pure escapist fun, although the script effectively skewers workplace politics and the old boys' network that was so pervasive in American business in the late 1970s (the last vestiges of which might well be eliminated by the end of the 21st century, if we're lucky) and there are enough pop culture references that allow the actors to cast knowing looks and utter the most groaningly bad lines with a genuine sense of humor.
At the performance reviewed, Dolly's sister Stella Parton-as gracious and as lovely as ever-was in the audience, excited to see the changes made for the version now being performed across the country since its Broadway run and national tour ended. A talented singer, songwriter and actress in her own right, I have vivid memories of Stella Parton as Miss Mona in a touring company of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a role she imbued with such grace and warmth (and please don't tell Dolly I said this) that I vastly preferred her performance to her sister's film treatment of the character.
Harp's vision for 9 to 5: The Musical is fairly straightforward and faithful to the show's origins (although there's an added scene from the movie that heretofore I've never seen in a stage version of the musical-and I've seen five different productions at last count), although the show opening performance of "9 to 5," the Dolly Parton song that originated in the film, somehow falls flat. I don't think it's the fault of Harp or his actors; I've had the same complaint every time I've seen it. In the musical's setting, somehow the title song isn't as energetic as it should be.
To his credit, Harp has a crackerjack cast of professional actors who bring the show to life with much charm and an across-the-board sense of comic timing that results in a thoroughly delightful show. Led by Marilyn Fair as Violet, Ashley Wieronski as Doralee, and Jordan Tudor as Judy, the iconic characters are brought to life with colorful and palpable enthusiasM. Fair is wonderful as the efficient and down-to-earth Violet, while Wieronski walks a fine line in her portrayal of Doralee (aka The Dolly Role), adding a fillip of Dollyesque bravado underscored by her own ample talents. Tudor, in the enviable role of Judy (regardless of what anyone else might tell you, this is Judy's show through-and-through), delivers her lines with the skilled assurance of a 1930s "dame," reminding you of Rosalind Russell or Carole Lombard at their very finest.