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'9 to 5' has just those odds at the Tony Awards

May 1, 2009 |  8:01 am

"9 to 5" opened Thursday to a wide range of reviews. This new tuner, based on the hit 1980 movie, features a score by Broadway newcomer Dolly Parton, who also penned the Oscar-nominated title song. Back then, Parton lost to the bouncy title number from "Fame." This year, she may score a Tony nod for best score but faces stiff competition from the likes of Oscar and Tony winner Elton John ("Billy Elliot") and three-time Tony nominee Jeanine Tesori  ("Shrek: The Musical").

Broadway Tonys Tony Awards Broadway Tonys Although only four shows contend for best musical at the Tony Awards, "9 to 5" should land a nod when nominations are announced on Tuesday. Also expected to be in the mix are the movies made into musicals mentioned above (neither of which opened to rave reviews) and one of the two critical darlings of the season — either "Next to Normal" or ["title of show"].

Beyond those two likely nominations, the Tony Awards prospects for "9 to 5" are difficult to assess. All three leading ladies -- Stephanie Block, Megan Hilty and Allison Janney — landed Drama Desk nods. But is there room for all of them in the Tony race, which will have only five nominees? Alice Ripley — who starred in the off-Broadway run of "Next to Normal" — was ineligible for the Drama Desk award but is a strong contender for the Tony. Sutton Foster ("Shrek: The Musical") has one Tony win ("Thoroughly Modern Millie," 2002) to show for her three previous noms in that race. And although Stockard Channing ("Pal Joey") has never contended on the musical side, she has won one Tony ("Joe Egg," 1985) out of five nods on the play front.

Many of the critics expressed disappointment in Joe Mantello's direction of "9 to 5." The onetime Tony-nominated actor ("Angels in America: Millennium Approaches") has taken Tonys for helming both a play ("Take Me Out," 2003) and a musical ("Assassins," 2004). Although he also directed best-musical contender "Wicked" in 2004, he was snubbed for that big budget show. Could the same fate await him this year? 

As Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News said in his mixed review, "Not every tune is a home run, and some lyrics are too plain-spoken. But enough of them stand out, like "I Just Might," a bright, optimistic ballad. The best number, "Change It," is about the office but really addresses larger issues, and makes the show shine. Unfortunately, Joe Mantello's direction (he scored big with "Wicked") careens from full-of-life to DOA, including a poorly realized scene with a dead body in a hospital. The creative team, including writer Patricia Resnick, who co-authored the film, has struggled to open the show up for the stage."

Michael Kuchwara of the AP said, "You won't mistake Parton's words and music for the works of Stephen Sondheim, yet she has a simple, direct way with lyrics and a beguiling sense of melody whether it's country twang, gospel, rhythm 'n' blues, power ballad or sentimental love song. But Parton hasn't been served well by her director Joe Mantello, who pushes the musical and book writer Patricia Resnick's overstuffed cartoon of a story at a furious pace. For much of the evening, everything is played in the key of frantic, as if the director were afraid to let the show slow down, catch its breath and let us really get to know the three women who kidnap their sexist pig of a boss. And when the women are played by a talented trio of ladies such as Allison Janney, Stephanie J. Block and Megan Hilty, that's a shame."

For Elysa Gardner of USA Today, "The libretto, adapted by Patricia Resnick from her original screenplay, has a populist bent that, if timely, can take on a self-conscious earnestness. But she has also retained a flair for wry, cheeky humor that is well served by the cast — particularly Allison Janney, who deftly fills Lily Tomlin's shoes as long-suffering office manager Violet Newstead. Janney may not have a mellifluous singing voice, but her delectably tart delivery, of songs as well as dialogue, is one of the production's two strongest assets; Marc Kudisch's divinely dastardly Hart is the other. If there were a Tony Award for best sport, Kudisch would be a leading contender; his villain is bound, lassoed, shot and poisoned — and that's just in a Disney-themed hallucination sequence that's one of director Joe Mantello's more inspired touches."

And Ben Brantley of the New York Times dismissed the show as a "gaudy empty musical." However, he did think, "blessed with the presence of Allison Janney. This deliciously droll actress is known for playing exceedingly competent people (“The West Wing” on television, “Present Laughter” on Broadway) with much more than mere competence, and her game but dignified professionalism is the show’s biggest asset."

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Photo credit: Marquis Theatre

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