'9 to 5" is a female-empowerment theme-park musical - complete with a spunky Dolly Parton impersonator and lots of faceless scenery that might as well have been moving animatronics.
The lavish and harmless entertainment, which opened last night with a shiny-colored and efficient score by Parton, is mostly a tracing-paper adaptation of the popular secretary-revenge movie - which, you may have noticed, was dated when it starred Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 1980.
Directed by Joe Mantello, who made his reputation on such dark triumphs as "Assassins" and his fortune on "Wicked," the squarely old-fashioned show fills a tourist-ready Hollywood slot left vacant by "Legally Blonde" and "Hairspray." The thing feels less created than assembled from recycled musical-comedy components, but Broadway doesn't have one of these right now, and summer approaches.
There is a big cast of talented people, including Allison Janney from "The West Wing." She isn't much of a singer or a dancer, but she smartly nails a classic type - the capable-yet-vulnerable big-boned gal - with endearing echoes of Eve Arden and Rosalind Russell.
She plays head secretary (the Tomlin role) at a company run by a philandering sexist boss - portrayed with a delicious lack of self-knowledge by Marc Kudisch. Megan Hilty has the requisite cheerfulness, twangy-ping voice and pneumatic mammaries in the Parton role of the secretary who's more than what her song calls "a backwoods Barbie in push-up bra and heels."
Stephanie J. Block uses a polite operetta soprano as the abandoned housewife in her first job (Fonda's part). Then, while guarding the boss, whom they kidnapped and trussed up on wires from the ceiling, she breaks loose into a big "Get Out and Stay Out" crowd-pleasing howl that may well be heard as far away as "Wicked."
The show is a little bit country and a little bit "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Parton's songs are more than functional, with short, unpredictable phrase lengths and an apt mix of the plaintive and the shrewd. The snatches of Andy Blankenbuehler's stylish choreography makes us wish there were more of it. The women's revenge fantasies are fun, but they arise from a very tired marijuana scene, complete with the giggles and the munchies.
There is an adorable turn by Kathy Fitzgerald as the dowdy office manager who loves the awful boss. At Tuesday's preview, theatergoers clapped or laughed wildly whenever one of the women waved a gun. Why, I can't guess and, if I could, I really would rather not.
WHAT "9 to 5"
WHERE Marriott Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway
INFO $66.50-126.50; 212-307-4100; ticketmaster.com
BOTTOM LINE Harmless tourist package