I love Dolly. Not “Hello Dolly” star Carol Channing who I’m terrified lurks in my basement. Dolly Parton, responsible for songs as diverse as “I Will Always Love You,” and my personal favorite, the haunting “Jolene.” Dolly Parton who starred in the 1979 movie, “Nine to Five,” which I watched no less than fifty times when I was in junior high. Sure, I could have been out developing my interpersonal skills, but then what would I have done in my late twenties when everyone else was getting married? Besides, what at the time felt like social failure, in retrospect looks like a self-initiated education in comedy and feminism. “Nine to Five” is a tight, smart gem of a movie, still tart and relevant even in 2011. While its enduring significance is largely due to the caliber of its three female leads, the script itself is trenchant and witty, aiming to educate and entertain.
When I heard “Nine to Five The Musical” would hit Chicago for a limited two-week engagement, I was jazzed…and dubious. While plays like the aforementioned “Hello Dolly” have been making the journey from stage to screen, the film to live musical flip is a recent phenomena. “The Producers” managed it. But for other movies/plays, particularly those submerged in nostalgia, the transition comes less fluidly. (“Dirty Dancing The Musical,” go to your corner!) Perhaps lazy writers bank on a viewer’s tendency to insert her own memories into a given work. Perhaps nervous producers fear a film’s plot won’t withstand the move to stage. Whatever the reason, nostalgia alone cannot carry a play.
Inside the Bank of America Theatre, I was greeted by a brightly colored scrim decked in a late 70’s motif. Pictures of Cher, Charlie’s Angels, references to The Scarsdale Diet, all boldly beckoned. As the lights dimmed and Dolly Parton took the stage to introduce the show, I hoped for the best. Inexplicably introduced by Illinois Governor, Patrick Quin, Dolly sparkled in a calf-length spangled dress. Characteristically charming and sassy, she described her reaction to being asked to create the score for "Nine to Five." “I’ll try anything,” she said, adding, “if you like the show, tell your friends and if you don’t, keep your big mouth shut.
Thus my dilemma; I’d be roughly two hundred words under my count if I respected Dolly’s wishes.
"Nine to Five the Musical" isn’t the worst show I’ve seen, that honor is reserved for the touring production of “The Graduate” starring Jerry Hall and that kid from “Boy Meets World.” However, from the pop culture scrim to the references to Enron and future Nike ad campaigns, Nine to Five is all self-referential, no actual self.
Although a scene by scene remounting of the original film may seem dull, when the film is as strong as “Nine to Five,” best to stick close. Otherwise your audience winds up wondering things like, why exactly did Violet (a truly fantastic Dee Hoty) require a love interest? Did Franklin Hart Jr. (Joseph Mahowald) really have to sing a song about his attraction to Doralee Rhodes (American Idol runner up Diana Degarmo)? And most of all, why dispense with a hefty chunk of plot leaving the meandering show hinging on cliché-ridden songs?
The couples fleeing during intermission seemed to reflect my dissatisfaction, as did the audience’s reluctance to remain for curtain call. After the show, Dolly returned to thank the us and the cast presented her with a birthday cake. Her final words? “Let’s close the curtain and cut this cake; these people gotta pee!”
Although Dolly’s post-show reemergence buoyed my spirits, her presence couldn’t cleanse my pallet of this remake’s cotton candy taste. Perhaps a bite of her birthday cake would have helped.
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A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez