Still Workin'

By Corey Scholibo

Originally published on Advocate.com September 22 2008 12:00 AM ET

It’s the
opening night of 9 to 5 at the Ahmanson Theatre
in Los Angeles and all the gays are out. I run into
producer Dan Jinks, whose film Milk will be
released in November; the handsome as always Robert
Gant; producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan
(Hairspray); and even the young actor Mitch
Morris (Another Gay Movie).

Who would have
thought the opening of a show about three working women
dealing with sexism and office politics in the ‘80s,
camp though it may be, would be one of the biggest gay
events of the year? And then in walks Dolly Parton and
I realize instantly why they have all come. Standing
barely five feet tall -- though her stilettos and one
of the most complicated wigs I have ever seen are
helping her height a great deal -- she commands the
room. She takes her seat amid a standing ovation.
Another burst of applause erupts when Lily Tomlin dashes in
at the last minute. Jane Fonda, on the other hand, had
arrived early in her tasteful suit and tinted
eyeglasses, and had been milling around for about 30
minutes by showtime.

The musical is a
success. Allison Janney heads up the cast as Violet
Newstead, the role originated by Lily Tomlin in the 1980
film. While her singing alone would not take her
far in musical theater, her comedic timing more than
makes up for any vocal shortcomings, which are masked
for the most part by letting her sing behind other voices --
you won’t be hearing her belt any ballads. In
the role of the conservative Judy Bernly -- whose
divorce has forced her back into the working world, only to
end up helping her find herself -- is Stephanie J.
Block, fresh from the role of Elphaba in the Broadway
cast of Wicked, and she has the Idina
Menzel–style voice to prove it. But stealing the
show is Megan Hilty as Doralee Rhodes, the role originated
by Parton. Her performance is less an impersonation of
Parton than an homage, but hearing her speak
takes you right back to the film. Parton wrote the
music and lyrics for the show, and every scene with Doralee
is self-referential to Parton, whose presence makes it
all the more inside baseball.

9 to 5 dolly parton and lilly tomlin X390 (�Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging) | ADVOCATE.COMStars of the original film, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin

9 TO 5 DAVID HYDE PIERCE AND JANE FONDA X390 (�Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging) | ADVOCATE.COM

Fifteen minutes
into the show the curtain comes down and a technical
problem regarding the set is announced over the PA. After a
few minutes Parton come onstage and grabs the
microphone to address the audience. “I
don’t know what else to do but sing '9 to 5,'
” she announces. She strikes up the band for an
impromptu performance, enlisting the audience's help
for the chorus. When the song is over and the set is
still "stuck," she decides to deliver the speech she was
planning for the end of the night. She thanks
screenwriter Pat Resnick, who also wrote the book for
the musical, and Jane Fonda, who originated the idea
for the movie, for including her in the first place, and
points out costars, including Martin Mull, who have
also come out for the performance. When there is
still time to kill she decides to sing “I Will
Always Love You,” and I'm sure that by this point
the audience is happy to have that set stuck for
as long as possible, but before she can start they are
ready to go again, so it's back to the show.

The set is very
complicated; it's easy to see how it can get stuck. And
while the concept of women oppressed in the workplace,
with Violet dreaming of a female CEO, may seem a
little dated in a post–Carly Fiorina world, the
idea of a corporation exploiting its workers and the feeling
that one can never get ahead should play well in
today’s economy. While the standout numbers are
country and western, Parton's songwriting has
broad appeal, writing catchy hooks, ballads, and
reprises with the best of them. Like The Drowsy
Chaperone
before it, this should be another Los
Angeles–born show bound for Broadway.

9 TO 5 Lance Bass X390 (�Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging) | ADVOCATE.COMDancing With the Starsstar Lance Bass