Theatre Review: Surprisingly Sweet


Note: This review was posted on the KC Stage review system.

9 to 5: The Musical, book by Patricia Resnick, music and lyrics by Dolly Parton (based on the movie written by Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins); directed by Jeff Calhoun. Produced by Starlight Theatre (Kansas City). First produced 2008. (Seen June 22, 2011.)

There are many words I would use to describe 9 to 5, the movie that the musical at Starlight is based on. Funny, biting, even edgy when you consider when it was made. But sweet is not one of them. And that’s just the start of where I was happily surprised with the production of 9 to 5: The Musical.

Being a regular reviewer, I have the distinction of seeing far more shows than I would normally — many of them shows I wouldn’t necessarily go to see otherwise. While I wasn’t not wanting to see 9 to 5, I also went in with very little expectations (and knowledge) of what I was going to see. I knew Dolly Parton had written the remaining songs, and I knew it was based on the movie (that I hadn’t seen in so long, I couldn’t remember that it was Jane Fonda who rounded out the main trio), and I had heard a couple of the songs on my internet Broadway radio station I listen to, but other than that, I wasn’t very familiar with the show.

I went in dreading what I got out of The Wedding Singer musical: another show that was intentionally dated that was based on a movie. But where The Wedding Singer fails (in my mind), 9 to 5 succeeds. My biggest issue with The Wedding Singer was that the songs they wrote for the show are nothing like the two Adam Sandler songs from the movie they kept in, meaning when those two songs happen, it’s jarring.

Diana DeGarmo, Mamie Parris, and Dee Hoty. Photo courtesy KC Starlight.

Parton, however, is a consummate songwriter, as I should’ve remembered, and almost every song feels like it belongs in the show and fits in with the title song. “One of the Boys”, the Act II opening, was the only one that felt weak and didn’t belong – making it a rough start, while the quatro “The Dance of Death”, “Cowgirl’s Revenge”, “Potion Notion”, and “Joy to the Girls” went a little too fast from number to number, and “Shine Like the Sun” (the Act I ending) was hard to understand the lyrics to, but that may have been more a circumstance of outdoor theatre and less the song itself.

The other songs, for the most part, were either sweet or funny (and sometimes both) — especially “I Might”, “Backwoods Barbie” (which was obviously written by Parton from the heart), and the horribly awesome “Heart to Hart” (where Kristine Zbornik, as Roz, uses every bit of comic timing to make this song frackin’ hilarious).

Keeping the show in the ’70s makes perfect sense — there’s no way this show could be made today. “Here for You”, the song sung by Joseph Mahowald (as Franklin Hart) that is one big sexual harassment suit waiting to happen, only works because it’s a refuge in audacity — it’s so outrageous, it’s absurd. And my compliments to the costumer (loved the fro especially), set design, and most especially the props for KEEPING it in the 70s (the prop/set piece of the copier is so awesomely dated, it’s smexy — and where in the heck did they find a Tab for the ladies to drink?)

Diana DeGarmo, as Doralee Rhodes, did a fairly close impersonation of young Dolly (Dolly Parton, via video screen, introduces the show and characters — and when she gets to Doralee, she says, “She’s … well, you know who she is,” so it’s definitely intentional). And she has what I think is the best joke: as the three women get stoned, Mamie Parris (Judy Bernly) looks at her breasts, and asks, “Are these real?” (A question, no doubt, Parton gets asked more times than she cares to admit), to which DeGarmo says, “As real as the hair on my head!” It reminded me that Parton, from everything I’ve read and heard, is what she seems — a ‘good ol’ girl’ who is the first to make fun of herself.

Mahowald does a good job playing the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”, happily camping it out and playing the role as if it was Dabney Coleman (who played the role in the movie) as portrayed by Bruce Campbell. (In fact, if they ever did a movie version of the musical, I’d love to see Bruce Campbell in this role!)

Dee Hoty, as Violet Newstead, holds the show together, and does a good job of making the role her own, especially considering her character was the most serious one — having the core of the moral land on her shoulders.

Finally, kudos to Paris’s Bernley — she’s the one character that truly goes through a transformation in the show, and her songs and acting show it. She’s shy and nervous at the beginning, stuttering her way through the early “I Just Might” — becoming a powerhouse of confidence in the penultimate “Get Out and Stay Out” — all I can say is ‘wow’.

The tech was, as I’m starting to get used to at Starlight, hit and miss, with sound issues during a couple of songs. (Although I have to give them props — literally — for using an actual starter pistol and blanks for the gun.)

Going in with no expectations, I was happily impressed with 9 to 5 — to the point where I wouldn’t say no to adding the soundtrack to my collection one of these days. If you’re looking for a fun escape from the literal 9 to 5 world, 9 to 5: The Musical is a funny show that is just that: an escape.

9 to 5: The Musical is playing at Starlight Theatre until June 26, and more information can be found at


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