9 to 5: The Musical is a memorable, if flawed, production

Over 30 years ago, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton charmed millions of moviegoers with 9 to 5, a soft but often very funny satire of sexism and emerging feminism in American offices. Four years ago, the country-western singer/songwriter presented a musical version for Broadway, writing over a dozen new songs. It had a four-month run and was nominated for several Tonys. After some considerable tampering and improvements, it’s been on tour since the fall of last year.

Dancap’s presentation of 9 to 5: The Musical opened at the still-magnificent and super-comfortable Toronto Centre for the Arts on June 29, and runs only until July 10. If you’re interested in a experiencing an entertaining, surprisingly funny evening, you may find this a great pleasure. The beautiful scene changes, the highly creative sets and the exquisite voices and perfect timing of the three main female characters, played to perfection by Dee Hoty, Diana DeGarmo and Mamie Parris, make up for most of the flaws in the show. The latter include a humdrum score by Ms. Parton (not one of the songs is as infectious or inspired as the title one) and a script by Patricia Resnick, which beats you over the head with sexist bosses and lusting male co-workers.

The musical does many things right: the use of the still gorgeous and delightful Dolly Parton, both at the opening and the close (on video, alas, not in person, but still a joy); the often sharp dialogue (“I’ve been chased by swifter men than you and I ain’t been caught yet!” declares the buxom southern belle Doralee, played by Ms. DeGarmo, to her viciously sexist, forever-groping boss); some handsome office-related choreography and the humourous parodies of classic country-western music. But too often, the songs and dances do not advance the plot sufficiently, and some of the dream sequences didn’t work for me.

Still, 9 to 5: The Musical is a sweet, enjoyable evening of light, fluffy, if somewhat dated material. (Do we still find the sight of adults smoking pot and getting giggly a funny experience?) I found it telling that the show’s biggest laugh was when the female stars, who kidnap their sexist boss and leave him hanging from the ceiling of his own house, are shocked to discover that he has been robbing his company by keeping two sets of books. One cries out, “No one would ever do THAT!”

Yes, the financial horrors of 2008 are still with us. Well, my date for the evening, my bright and sassy 32-year-old daughter —who has worked in more offices than her home-bound theatre-critic-dad has — kept laughing throughout, so it may have been a lot closer to the mark than I was willing to give it credit for.

Moi? I am chafing at the bit to see the next Dancap presentation, Next to Normal, at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which runs from July 19 to 31. Having seen it twice on Broadway, I am still stunned by its brilliance — in acting, music, lyrics and profoundly moving script. Don’t miss it.

9 to 5: The Musical, Toronto Centre for the Arts, June 29-July 10

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