Workin’! `9 to 5′ hits the stage

Megan Hilty (left), Allison Janney (center) and Stephanie J. Block in the world premiere of 9 to 5: The Musical at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles Music Center. The show opened amid a set snafu and abundant celebrity sightings. Photo by Craig Schwartz

What a way to make a livin’!

Yes, Dolly Parton, one of the world’s supreme people, can now add Broadway composer to her resume…almost. Her stage musical version of 9 to 5, the movie in which she starred with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dabney Coleman, opened Saturday at the Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles Music Center and will head to Broadway next spring.

Luckily for all of us, Theater Dogs had an on-the-spot dog. We’ll call him/her Sport, and we trust his/her reporting acumen 100 percent.

The big news of the evening was that the set broke. Take it away, Sport:

Yes, the set broke. Apparently, this is a recurring issue. It’s a big, complicated thing, embroidered with trapdoors and moving scenery and a pretty cool dinosaur-esque copy machine. It malfunctioned the first night of previews and Dolly did a bit of impromptu entertainment for the crowd. It also broke Saturday (in a different spot). Big-time cynics speculate it was a publicity stunt (wink wink), but I honestly don’t think so. Dolly didn’t pop up right away; she sat for a bit, chatting with Jane, Lily and Dabney Coleman. Finally, someone brought her a mic and she led a completely awesome “9 to 5” sing-along. Cheers, cheers! Then she vamped for a few minutes more, saying that it’s a good thing she’s “a big show-off” and able to fill the time. She was about to launch into another number when an usher informed her the set was fixed. Everyone protested, but she told them she’d get to another song when the set broke again. (It didn’t.) Oh, also, she mentioned that someone asked her why she, Jane and Lily weren’t starring in this…she said, “I told them it’s still called 9 to 5…not 95!”

9 to 5: The Musical cast members include (from left) Marc Kudisch (as Franklin Hart), Megan Hilty (as Doralee Rhodes), Stephanie J. Block (as Judy Bernley), the one-and-only Dolly Parton (music and lyrics) and Allison Janney (as Violet Newstead). Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

Here’s what our gal/guy-on-the scene though about the show itself:

It’s a lot of fun. The songs are snappy and delicious. Allison Janney is leggy and lovely and obviously having a blast, but in the end, it’s really Megan Hilty and Stephanie J. Block who get the show-stoppers. Both are excellent. The crowd LOVED it and it seems like it could have a pretty successful Broadway run, as long as they get that set fixed. Either that, or they’re going to have to incorporate Dolly into every performance!

Exciting. Too bad the out-of-town tryout wasn’t in San Francisco.

If you’re so inspired, there’s still time to catch 9 to 5: The Musical. It runs through through Oct. 19. For tickets, call (213) 628-2772 or visit

From the vaults of YouTube — an intrepid opening-night audience member named Ryan O’Connor caught Miss Dolly’s impromptu performance during the set difficulties on camera (sort of — the usher kept interfering). But it’s still pretty cool:

Here’s more (10 minutes more) from a very enthusiastic Ryan O’Connor with his BFF, Tony-winner Marissa Jaret Winokur, who apparently attended opening night together (total dirt about John Lloyd Young and Lea Michele, he of Jersey Boys and she of Spring Awakening, are dating!):

The brilliance, literally, of Dolly Parton

There’s no getting around the fact that for more than 40 years now, Dolly Parton has been a bright light of show business. She quickly transcended her beginnings on country radio and corny country TV shows to become a pop icon, movie star and savvy businesswoman.

She’s one of the most recognizable women in the world, and the curious thing is that under all that hair, makeup, glitz and God-given curviness, Parton is an extraordinary talent. Her voice is so unique it’s immediately recognizable and difficult to imitate, and her songwriting skill – which is criminally underrated – will eventually have its own section in the Great American Songbook.

The 62-year-old Parton was in the Bay Area Tuesday night at the Greek Theatre on the UC Berkeley campus as part of her Backwoods Barbie tour. As amazing as she was – and boy howdy was she amazing – I was disappointed she didn’t mention the latest feather in her cap: Broadway composer.

One of Parton’s biggest movie and musical hits, 9 to 5, is heading to Broadway. In addition to the title song, she has written about 20 new songs for the show, which is directed by Joe Mantello of Wicked fame. The new musical has its world premiere Sept. 3 through Oct. 19 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles before heading to Broadway’s Marriott Marquis Theatre. You can get tickets to the L.A. run here. Check out the site for the Broadway run here. Alison Janney heads the cast in the role played on film by Lily Tomlin.

Parton has always had a flair for the theatrical, so it’s not at all surprising she’s finally made her way to musical theater. And reports from rehearsals in L.A. are that Parton is so enthused about the project she shows up early and stays late whenever she can.

But rehearsing a Broadway show must be difficult when you’re taking your own show on the road.

Sadly, the crowd at the 8,500-seat Greek was not at capacity. Reports are that it was around 50 percent – a disappointing turnout for a living legend – but that was a wildly enthusiastic 50 percent, a fact Parton acknowledged when she said there may have been more people at the L.A. shows a few nights previous, but they weren’t as loud, as welcoming or as attractive.

Even before much of the crowd had taken its seats, indeed before the clock had even struck 8, Parton was rarin’ to go with “Two Doors Down,” which led directly into one of her rowdy pop-honky tonkers, “Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That?”

In between songs, while courteously taking flowers from fans and chatting with some kids in the audience (who know her as godmother to Miley Cyrus aka Hannah Montana), Parton showed off her glam high heels to the front few rows and, as a result of her short, spangly gold skirt, revealed more than she wanted. “Ohhh,” she squealed. “I think I just showed him the box office!”

Whether singing one of her classics (“Jolene”) or covering someone else’s (John Denver’s revised “Thank God I’m a Country Girl”), Parton is an extraordinary performer with boundless energy. I wasn’t always convinced the vocals were entirely live, but a girl does what she needs to do, and the Teleprompters on each side of the stage ensured there would be no lyrical gaffs.

From the spirited new album she performed a cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “Drives Me Crazy” (complete with hoedown section) and the title track, which features the lyric: “I might look artificial but where it counts I’m real.”

Playing the dulcimer she sang “Shattered Image,” then accompanied herself on the autoharp for a touching version of “Coat of Many Colors.” Then she picked up the penny whistle for the Celtic-tinged “Only Dreamin’.” Act 1 ended in blaze of gospel glory with “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” bookending a mega-medley of gospel tunes.

Act 2 brought a sassy red dress and some of the most impressive showmanship I’ve seen on a stage. After a rousing “Baby I’m Burning,” Parton tore through two songs from the new album – the inspirational and funny “Better Get to Livin'” complete with video starring Amy Sedaris and the forgettable but fun “Shinola” – and then got down to some serious vocals.

Surrounded by the seven male members of her band, she sang an a cappella version of “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind,” and the already Dolly-crazy audience went ballistic. She stayed on the a cappella track with her two female backup singers for a chilling, thrilling “Little Sparrow” that made you long for an entire Parton concert with no band at all.

Then came the hit parade: “Here You Come Again,” “Islands in the Stream” (with Richard Dennison), “9 to 5” (and no mention of the Broadway show) and, of course, “I Will Always Love You.”

Because of time restrictions at the Greek (city noise ordinances or some such), Parton trimmed the piano version of “The Grass Is Blue” she usually does, but she did end with her fiery new song “Jesus and Gravity.”

At one point early in the show, as the sun was setting, the sky turned a soft shade of pink over the stage as if to underscore the point that one of the best places in the universe is in the audience for a Dolly Parton show.

Here’s a pirated video from Parton’s European tour last month of “Little Sparrow.” The sound’s not perfect, but you’ll get the idea.

Broadway says hello, Dolly!

OK, I know this isn’t local, but I’m still excited about it. And it’s in our state and time zone, so technically it’s local.

Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles recently announced that it will host the world premiere of 9 to 5, the Broadway-bound musical based on the 1980 movie starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton.

Here’s the really good news: Dolly has written the music and lyrics for the show — her first-ever musical.

The show opens next fall, Sept. 3 through Oct. 19 at the Ahmanson Theatre.

The book is by Patricia Resnick, co-author of the movie, and Joe Mantello (Wicked) is slated to direct.

The cast includes Allison Janey (The West Wing) as in-charge Violet Newstead (the Tomlin role). Stephanie J. Block (Wicked, The Boy from Oz) will be fumbling office worker Judy Bernly (the Fonda role). And Megan Hilty (Wicked yet again) will be country gal Doralee Rhodes (the Parton role).

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a musical, and now I have the chance to not only make Doralee sing, but to bring all of Patricia’s wonderful characters to life on stage through music,” Parton said in a statement. “I think I’m gonna like it around here.”

For information visit or call 213-628-2772.