Technically, the name of this online publication is Manhattan Digest. And it’s easy for our New York elitism to bleed through into…well…practically every aspect of our daily lives. Sometimes we Gothamites are so deeply entrenched in our belief that New York City is the center of it all, that we fail to take notice to the notable offerings around us. I use the collective “we” here, because I too, have been guilty of this snobbery.
This happened last weekend when I crawled out of my hole of oblivion and hopped an Amtrak train from Penn Station to Philadelphia. Granted, I was there to to run a half marathon,but prior to my departure, I was reminded of the terrific and often overlooked theater scene dwelling in Pennsylvania’s largest metropolis. It was here where I saw a delightful and improved stage version of Dolly Parton’s notorious film about eighties working girls, 9 to 5: The Musical.
The show had a short life when it opened on Broadway in April 2009. Critics found it tawdry and dated and although Parton’s name and influence was present, it wasn’t enough to generate box office dollars. The production, in Times Square’s Marriot Marquis closed 6 months later in September. Since then, it has found its’ groove among regional theaters, including the well regarded Walnut Street theatre where it is enjoying a run through Oct. 19th.
This story of girl power centers on Violet Newstead (Dee Hoty), Doralee Rhodes (Amy Bodnar), and Judy Bernly (Amanda Rose). This spunky trio punches the daily clock and attempts to climb the corporate ladder but is shot down at every angle by their misogynistic boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Paul Schoeffler). If that weren’t enough, they must deal with Hart’s obsessively loyal administrative assistant, Roz Keith (Mindy Dougherty). Violet cautions an overwhelmed Judy on her first day that Roz is Mr. Hart’s eyes, ears, and throat and “if you want to gossip in the ladies room, check under the stalls for feet first.” The women concoct a plan to kidnap Hart and finagle a way for Roz to attend a French Vocabulary School. They continue on their mission to teach Hart a lesson on respect.
The premise is implausible, but the sense of nostalgia is perfectly intact. So are the vocals from this predominantly female cast. Each of them have their moment to shine and deliver Parton’s score with fresh vivacity and vigor. It is possible that producers caught wind of the weaknesses of the Broadway production and the criticism that it felt out of date. In this version, a pre-recorded Dolly Parton welcomes the show via digital projection and introduces all of the leading players. Parton informs the audience that the show takes place in a time when “apples and blackberries were things I picked from the field” and knowingly winks at the time frame. Admit it: If Dolly Parton can’t bring a smile to your face, you’re either the world’s crankiest person or you’ve had one too many botox injections.
There is nothing overly cerebral about the story, but it remains a feel-good satire on the injustices and monotony of office life. It also provides the opportunity to hear some fresh Grammy nominated music from Dolly, delivered by a Broadway quality talent. So, dispense with your New York City highbrow attitude and shower our neighboring city of brotherly love with a bit of romance.
9 to 5: The Musical is now playing at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre (825 Walnut Street) now through Oct. 19th. For tickets and information, visit: http://www.walnutstreettheatre.org/ or call 215-574-3550.