On Theater: Laughs keep coming from '9 to 5'

The metropolitan business office occasionally crops up as a subject for musical comedy — those that spring immediately to mind include "Promises, Promises" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

To that short list now must gleefully be added "9 to 5," the top-grossing movie comedy of 1980, which has morphed into two television series and, currently, a Broadway show, the touring version of which currently is entertaining audiences at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

That three-decade-old flick was undoubtedly the highlight of Dolly Parton's acting career, and she's actively involved in this one as well, composing both the music and the lyrics. And she even puts in a taped appearance in the Center production.

Parton starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in the movie as three secretaries bashing the glass ceiling of the 1970s — and their chauvinist boss (Dabney Coleman) along with it. These characters spring back to life in the Center's zippy rendition that's funnier than it has any right to be.

The sexpot secretary role Parton played in the movie is filled perfectly by Diana DeGarmo, with Mamie Parris recreating Fonda's newbie office assistant and Dee Hoty expanding the thrust of Tomlin's middle-aged worker trying in vain to advance.

All three are blessed with strong, rousing voices, with Hoty bringing down the house in the second act with her renditions of "One of the Boys" and "Let Love Grow." Parris also scores as a divorcee rebuffing her ex's reconciliation attempts with a robust "Get Out and Stay Out."

Shows like these depend on a strong antagonist for balance, and in Joseph Mahowald this "9 to 5" soars. Mahowald has the bearing and the attitude of the pushy Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast" and tackles his feminist-inspired comedy with gusto.

A particular treat in the supporting ranks is Kristine Zbornik as the lovesick office manager pining for Mahowald's porcine character. Her "5 to 9" solo in the second act is hilarious.

Wayne Schroder scores twice, first as Parris' lunk of an ex-husband and, later, as the chairman of the board who rights the ship in "How to Succeed" fashion. Gregg Goodbrod lends solid backing as Hoty's ardent admirer.

Under the briskly sharp direction of Jeff Calhoun, who also choreographed, "9 to 5" brings Patricia Resnick's adaptation and Parton's music and lyrics beautifully to life, even though the show remains necessarily mired in the late Seventies with typewriters and rotary-dial phones, not to mention the lack of women in high positions.

Martyn Axe's orchestral accompaniment is particularly pleasing, since it backs up the vocals without overshadowing them, as instrumentalists often are prone to do. Kenneth Foy's scenic designs suggest 21st century technical acumen, though work quite well for the late 20th.

Above all, "9 to 5" is fun, a joyous entertainment package that's aged gracefully over the last three decades. It's only here through Sunday, though, so try not to miss it.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "9 to 5"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, at 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

Cost: Starts at $20

Call: (714) 556-2787

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