New '9 to 5' tour resets its clock

 
 
Updated 1/15/2011 5:29 AM
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  • Diana DeGarmo, Dee Hoty and Mamie Parris co-star in "9 to 5: The Musical," which plays the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 30.

    Diana DeGarmo, Dee Hoty and Mamie Parris co-star in "9 to 5: The Musical," which plays the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 30.

  • Dee Hoty, Mamie Parris and Diana DeGarmo co-star in "9 to 5: The Musical," which plays the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 30.

    Dee Hoty, Mamie Parris and Diana DeGarmo co-star in "9 to 5: The Musical," which plays the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 30.

  • Country legend and "9 to 5: The Musical" composer and lyricist Dolly Parton with the tour's director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun. "9 to 5: The Musical" plays the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 30.

    Country legend and "9 to 5: The Musical" composer and lyricist Dolly Parton with the tour's director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun. "9 to 5: The Musical" plays the Bank of America Theatre in Chicago from Tuesday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 30.

A trio of secretaries may have triumphed over their male chauvinistic boss in the hit comedy "9 to 5," but success wasn't initially in the cards when a 2009 musical adaptation of the 1980 film folded on Broadway after a disappointing run of just five-months.

But now "9 to 5: The Musical" is back via a national tour that boasts several changes to the show's script by Patricia Resnick (co-writer with Colin Higgins on the film screenplay) and score by country legend Dolly Parton (and yes, Parton's hit title film song gets prominently featured as the opening number).

This revamped "9 to 5" tour opened last year in Nashville and has been collecting more favorable reviews along the way. It hits Chicago for a two-week run at the Bank of America Theatre staring Tuesday, and the tour's director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun couldn't be happier.

"I have lots of happy memories at that theater," said Calhoun, a former Northwestern University student who danced in the chorus at the formerly known Shubert Theater in the early 1980s for a tour of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." In 2008, it was the same venue for the official launch of Calhoun's national tour staging of "Disney's High School Musical."

For this "9 to 5" tour, Calhoun streamlined the musical's staging with set designer Kenneth Foy by having the performers move much of the scenery themselves (compared to the sometimes problematic mechanized scenery on Broadway).

"I wanted to be very cinematic," Calhoun said about the new set. "It allows us to keep the tempo up and to hopefully never slow down."

Calhoun also put Parton herself into the production as a narrator.

"Jeff did a great job of incorporating Dolly into the show," said three-time Tony Award nominee Dee Hoty, who stars in the Lily Tomlin-originated secretary role of Violet Newstead. Even though Parton is just a video presence, Hoty says she's great because it "really hits home that Dolly is the (creative) mother to us all."

Hoty assumes the role of Violet after Emmy Award-winner Allison Janney ("The West Wing") created it on Broadway in a Tony Award-nominated performance. And that's even though Janney is not known for being a dynamo vocalist the way that Hoty is.

"We have changed a couple of keys," said Hoty about the tour. "But a lot of it was so ingrained in the score that I've just resigned myself to singing with the tenors."

Hoty is in strong vocal company with her co-stars. "American Idol" finalist Diana DeGarmo stars in the Parton film role of Doralee Rhodes, while former Kenny Rogers backup singer and Broadway veteran Mamie Parris ("Ragtime," "The Drowsy Chaperone") stars in the Jane Fonda role of Judy Bernly.

The 11 o'clock number "Get Out and Stay Out" that Judy sings to her ex-husband is a "great song for someone who is a power belter, which I think I fall into that category," said Parris. "It's cathartic for a lot of reasons. It really symbolizes this huge change in the character's life, so to sing those high E's and F's and throw them out to the audience, it really makes you feel this sense of camaraderie and that the audience is with you."

The film "9 to 5" was set in its time when it debuted back in 1980, so the musical's creators opted to keep the show in the same era as a period piece. Back then employees had little recourse to sexual harassment in the workplace, though Calhoun points out that there are still workplace inequities, particularly in differences between salaries for men and women.

"What's fun is you can play a game as you watch '9 to 5.'" Calhoun said. "At one point you're going, 'Thank God it's not like that anymore,' and a couple of seconds later you're going, 'Wait, we haven't really come that far, have we?'"