2009 comebacks: Dolly Parton's '9 to 5'
For the past decade, Broadway (like Hollywood) has generally abandoned originality in favor of a string of re-makes and revivals.These days, the big tickets are mostly what I call "pre-reviewed," meaning the audience pretty much knows what they're going to see and hear (down to the exact line readings) before they get into the theater: The Lion King, Shrek, Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Spamalot, Legally Blonde, Mary Poppins, and on and on. Broadway has become a $110 video store.
Even so, 9 to 5 arrives on April 7 as a glimmer of hope for the theatrical biz. Sure, it's based on a property that, at this point, has become one of our beloved cultural tales, like the modern-day equivalent of campfire mythology. But this jukebox show is pedigreed. Dolly Parton, who has remained current through a series of smart, self-reinventing albums, has supplemented her famous theme song with an entire new score--her first for the theater, which is pretty shocking when you think about how her pop songs are really like mini-stories. She even got "Backwoods Barbie," the namesake of her most recent album, in there as a song for her old character, Doralee.
Allison Janney, a household name for playing C.J. on The West Wing, plays Lily Tomlin's old role of Violet (and wears her early '80s wardrobe of vibrant trenchcoats and flowing housecoats), and Megan Hilty, a Wicked alum, takes over for Dolly. In its pre-Broadway run last fall, the LA Times called the show "theatrical comfort food," which is exactly what audiences could use right now.
When you watch the movie today, there are some amusing social anachronisms, most of which the show preserves. In 1980, professional working moms were still thought of as the underdogs, not the near-norms they are these days. Today, a big corporation's H.R. department would lasso sexist, egotistical (fill in the rest) boss Franklin M. Hart, Jr., long before Dolly did. And all those typewriters! But the concept of workplace abuse, and the eternal issue of having a boss who's a total tool, are timeless. And even today, the copy machine won't work properly.
What's really progressive about the movie, even now, is the ending, which suddenly feels less like a tidy wrap-up than a trenchant prediction of future social trends. (Spoiler alert--but come on, you've had 29 years to see the thing.) In a denouement fit for the optimistic Age of Obama, our heroines gain control of their department and implement a slew of people-first, humane changes that create a 20% rise in productivity. Many of their workplace solutions were considered so radical that they could only be suited to the underdog: job-sharing employees, in-office day care, and office-sponsored alcoholism rehabilitation.
In 1980, that was a Hollywood ending. Today, it's called Google.