They Let You Dream Just to Watch ‘Em Shatter; Or Why 9 to 5 Is a Terrible Musical

3 Jul

9 to 5 is a great movie.  9 to 5 is a great song.  9 to 5 is an awful musical.

First off, to the musical’s credit, the production I saw wasn’t very good, which disappointed me both because I don’t like watching bad productions and because Music Theatre of Wichita usually turns out great productions with very good choreography, very good performances, very good effects, very good music, etc.

This one, however, was kind of the pits.  The choreography was mediocre and uninspired; the performances were super lame and based too heavily upon the movie, and the singing was actually kind of bad—why was Violet always flat and why was there so much talk-singing?; the effects were lame (because of the screen thing that I will address later); and the music was both unexciting and not very full-sounding.

So all of that awful stuff isn’t the express fault of the musical itself, but let me assure you, the musical itself has its own flaws that suck and were only compounded by the above suckiness.

We begin our tale with the title song—people stand around showing us their morning routine.  And midway through we get a message from Dolly Parton, which is a cheesy recorded message projected onto a screen upstage.  She introduces the main characters and makes some dumb jokes.

Why does this need to occur?  Because the makers of this musical assume that everyone has seen the movie and just want to see the movie on stage with a few added Dolly songs.  (I honestly don’t know why the makers of this musical didn’t just make it a jukebox affair, with “I Will Always Love You” and “Coat of Many Colors” and “Jolene”—it would’ve been the same quality…)

This is the first clue they’ve done something wrong.  Just do your own deal, stage musical!  Make this thing your own instead of a bad mimeograph (it’s set in 1979) of the movie!

Next, we have dialogue that is word-for-word from the movie and a few songs that are nothing to write home about, although they are quite vulgar and cringe-inducing, including one that’s basically about how Franklin Hart would like to motorboat Doralee and another one that’s basically about how Roz wants to bone Franklin Hart.  The musical continues in this manner until the pot-induced fantasy sequences.

In the movie, the pot-induced fantasy sequences show us that our protagonists have bonded, that they are creative, that they have goals, that they are funny, that they care about others’ well-being and happiness (especially true in Violet’s).  These sequences also provide several elements that will eventually manifest later in Hart’s kidnapping, and most importantly, they provide the ladies an opportunity to voice their opinion that Hart is a “lying, hypocritical, sexist, egotistical bigot.”

In the musical, these sequences seem forced and do not provide the audience with any insight into the characters.  The first fantasy is Judy’s.  In the movie, Judy had previously discussed hunting with Hart and so her fantasy involved her being a big-game huntress.  In the musical, they’ve had no such conversation, so Judy’s fantasy is that she’s a femme fatale in a film noir who uses her sex appeal to bring Hart down.

Whoa!  That is like the opposite of what the movie is all about!  And what this show had purportedly been about, too!  This whole thing is supposed to be about lady bonding and how ladies are more than just the sum of their secondary sex characteristics!  How women can be smart and funny and powerful because of their brains!!!!!!!!!!  And then this fantasy sequence cuts that down with Judy actually giving Hart a kiss of death and wrapping a sexy stockinged leg around him!

Doralee’s fantasy is pretty much like the movie’s except it doesn’t really “give Hart a taste of his own medicine” because it contains only one instance of sexual harassment.  Doralee’s fantasy is supposed to be predicated on this.  She wants to flip the power dynamics and show that being sexually harassed isn’t fun or desirable—it is demeaning and hurtful.  The sequence in the movie does that with panache; the musical’s leaves the audience wondering what the point of it is.

Then we have Violet’s fairytale revenge, in which she poisons Hart.  In the movie, she does so with a smile on her face and then liberates the office workers—depicted as being imprisoned in a fairytale dungeon.  In the musical we get Violet creating a potion and then giving it to Hart in a very witch-like way (as opposed to a princess-like way) and then no one is liberated from any dungeons.  This is the worst change, I think, because it takes away Violet’s character motivation.  In the movie we see that she does what she does for others, not for her own selfish reasons.  In the musical, we basically see that she’s no better than Hart—really only looking out for herself and if anybody else is affected, good for them.

Additionally, in each dream sequence in the musical, Hart delivers the bigot line instead of the women.  This takes away so much of their agency!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  They don’t get to stick it to him, even in their own private fantasies!!!!!!!!!!!

After that we get the rushed and lame version of Violet going to the hospital and stealing the body and a rushed and lame version of kidnapping Hart.  Also, in the movie, there’s the Chekov’s gun of Hart’s chair being wobbly and that’s why he doesn’t end up drinking the coffee.  In the musical, they kept the line about having the chair fixed…and then they don’t use the chair at all.  This could be trying to subvert the audience’s expectations, or it could be some script writer not knowing how to keep a book tight and economical.

Then act two rolls around, and the first song is all about Violet fantasizing she’s the first female CEO.  Like her pot-induced fantasy, this song shows her to be superficial and more concerned with earning the male gaze than with being a good CEO who’s fair to her employees and productive for the company.

Then some more lame songs while Violet, Doralee, and Judy change some things around the office, and Violet engages in an extraneous love story with an accountant.

Then Judy has a big song as she tells her ex-husband she doesn’t need him anymore.

Then the falling action, in which the head dude comes to tell Hart he’s awesome.  Violet admits to kidnapping Hart because she wants to say it before he tells on them.  This is accompanied by a really lame speech about “the little guy” that sounds as if it was stolen from Julia Sugarbaker on an off day.  And the head dude actually laughs it off.  He doesn’t actually care about what she just said, but he promotes her anyway, rather nonsensically.  Really stupid.

And then Screen Dolly comes back to give us the resolution, which is that Hart gets kidnapped by Amazons, Judy never gets remarried and becomes a successful author, Doralee becomes a country singer, Violet marries the accountant and is the CEO for 30 years until she invents the Clapper, and Roz winds up with Mrs. Hart.

Um… I think Judy’s outcome is pretty positive, although not as funny as the movie’s conclusion for her.  And Violet’s and Doralee’s are ok.  Roz’s is pretty nonsensical—what she liked about Hart, according to the songs she sang about him in the musical, is his power.  What power does Mrs. Hart have?  A cheap joke that doesn’t fit the characters.

In conclusion, the movie strikes a chord because it’s a mad-cap revenge fantasy with palatable feminist underpinnings and snappy dialogue.  The musical takes that revenge fantasy and undercuts it with a stupid love story and songs and speeches that try to add too much gravitas; takes the feminist underpinnings and ruins them with sex and superficiality; and overuses the well-worn snappy dialogue without adding any new.  A lazy, disappointing effort.

Because we survived this picture-less, feminist-rage rant, here’s this music video of Captain Janeway workin’ 9 to 5 to make us feel better.

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