The Ahmanson Theatre / Los Angeles
On through 19 October 2008

When a new musical begins to brew far beyond the reaches of midtown Manhattan, the anticipation can be overwhelming, simultaneously causing audiences and critics to pounce and cheer and judge and speculate. I’m really no different. I had heard of the set clunking about, causing delays for the first previews. I had heard that the show leans far to heavily on its title tune. I had heard some disparaging remarks about some of the leading cast members.

Well I’m glad to say that last night, the most troublesome thing about the show is the folks running the theatre. Maybe for a laugh (or part of a parking scam to bring in more cash), the garage was closed off under the theatres, so we all had to park under the Disney Concert Hall and run like there was no tomorrow in order to make the strict 8pm curtain. But once those lights went down, it was all good.

Based on the movie of the same name, “9 to 5” is Dolly Parton’s musical about sticking it to the man and having a good ol’ time while you do it. Our leads are Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan Hilty, Andy Karl, Kathy Fitzgerald and Marc Kudisch. Ms. Janney (who was astounding in “The Autumn Garden” last year in Williamstown) gets to use her comedic chops to full effect this time around in the role of Violet Newstead. Hilty as Doralee Rhodes sounds just like Dolly from the moment she opens her mouth and the crowd whooped it up like it was the greatest thing they’d ever heard. Her heartfelt, don’t-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover sass is just as sincere and beautiful as her voice, which many Los Angelinos may recognise from her role as Glinda in “Wicked.” Rounding out the trio, Ms. Block arrives on this stage after playing Elphaba in the same show on Broadway. She’s the demure one in this story, but learns how to stand on her own two feet in the rousing and impassioned number, ‘Get Out and Stay Out.’

These fine ladies tell their stories (and kidnap their boss) to a jovial set of songs that are not quite memorable (especially when placed alongside the title song) but we enjoy them nonetheless. Kudisch (from Broadway’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” among others) plays the dastardly head of the company with just the right amount of arrogance and comedic flair. And there’s a wonderful turn from Andy Karl as Joe, the accountant who is determined to get a date with Violet. And then there’s the set, which has choreography as interesting and fun to watch as that of the ensemble. So very many set pieces! And, yes there are still kinks, but nothing that can’t be worked out on the bus to Broadway. At last night’s performance a disc of something fell off the elevator door set. Without missing a beat, Janney bent down, picked it up and threw it in her purse.

It may not win the Pulitzer, but “9 to 5” is a peppy, sassy night that reminds us just how much fun the American musical can be when it’s done well. These girls are gonna be just fine.