Watching "9 to 5: The Musical" at Lincolnshire's Marriott Theatre is like eating chicken-fried steak from a fine china plate.
The presentation is fine, propelled by David H. Bell's playful, creative staging; Matt Raftery's perpetual motion choreography; and three superb leading ladies who coax hearty laughs from hackneyed humor. The problem with the show -- based on the 1980 film starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton (who penned the film's bouncy title tune) as three put-upon secretaries who turn the tables on their sexist boss -- is the second-tier material by composer/lyricist Parton and screenwriter Patricia Resnick.
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"9 to 5: The Musical"★ ★ ½
Location: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847) 634-0200 or marriotttheatre.com
Showtimes: 1 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 4:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 13
Running time: About 2 hours, 15 minutes, with intermission
Tickets: $40-$48; senior and student discounts available; dinner-theater options available
Parking: Free lot and pay valet service
Rating: For adults, features sexual situations and innuendo
Parton's score, with its pleasant, albeit less-than-gripping female empowerment anthems, is unremarkable, with a few exceptions. "Backwoods Barbie," about a glammed-up, country girl smarter than she appears, is a sweet, twangy tune delivered with sass by Alexandra Palkovic's Doralee, the buxom blonde played by Parton in the film. Susan Moniz, as newly divorced Judy (the Fonda role) sings the stuffing out of "Get Out and Stay Out," the 11 o'clock number made credible by Moniz's considerable talent.
That said, the show unfolds in fits and starts, as a series of vignettes. Most of them are revenge fantasies in which the women imagine how they'll do in James Moye's libidinous, sexist pig CEO Franklin Hart. Moye, who does what he can with a one-dimensional role, gets his own fantasy sequence -- a clever, seductively choreographed office tryst with a Doralee double.
But for all the zestfulness with which they're performed, the musical numbers simply don't advance the action. As a result, the show lacks flow. Moreover, the whole thing feels dated. Not that the gender discrimination lampooned here has disappeared. (Just ask any woman making 77 cents on the dollar compared to her male counterparts.)
But for all that, Marriott's "9 to 5" has its moments, most courtesy of the ladies. There are the powerhouse pipes of Marya Grandy, who plays the uptight Roz. Brandi Wooten is a hoot as Hart's dimly endearing wife and Holly Stauder earns laughs as the company drunk. But it's the dynamic Kelli Cramer -- as the witty, über competent, overlooked Violet (the Tomlin role) -- who steals the show with her pristine comic timing and everywoman charm. Hers is a performance worth savoring.