It’s the opening night of 9 to 5 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles and all the gays are out. I run into producer Dan Jinks, whose film Milk will be released in November; the handsome as always Robert Gant; producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan (Hairspray); and even the young actor Mitch Morris (Another Gay Movie).
Who would have thought the opening of a show about three working women dealing with sexism and office politics in the ‘80s, camp though it may be, would be one of the biggest gay events of the year? And then in walks Dolly Parton and I realize instantly why they have all come. Standing barely five feet tall — though her stilettos and one of the most complicated wigs I have ever seen are helping her height a great deal — she commands the room. She takes her seat amid a standing ovation. Another burst of applause erupts when Lily Tomlin dashes in at the last minute. Jane Fonda, on the other hand, had arrived early in her tasteful suit and tinted eyeglasses, and had been milling around for about 30 minutes by showtime.
The musical is a success. Allison Janney heads up the cast as Violet Newstead, the role originated by Lily Tomlin in the 1980 film. While her singing alone would not take her far in musical theater, her comedic timing more than makes up for any vocal shortcomings, which are masked for the most part by letting her sing behind other voices — you won’t be hearing her belt any ballads. In the role of the conservative Judy Bernly — whose divorce has forced her back into the working world, only to end up helping her find herself — is Stephanie J. Block, fresh from the role of Elphaba in the Broadway cast of Wicked, and she has the Idina Menzel–style voice to prove it. But stealing the show is Megan Hilty as Doralee Rhodes, the role originated by Parton. Her performance is less an impersonation of Parton than an homage, but hearing her speak takes you right back to the film. Parton wrote the music and lyrics for the show, and every scene with Doralee is self-referential to Parton, whose presence makes it all the more inside baseball.
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