BEVERLY — One hit song does not make a musical.
Country music star Dolly Parton found crossover success with her starring role in the 1980 film “9 to 5” and the title song she wrote to go with it. But the musical version she cobbled together for a short-lived 2009 Broadway run lacks the variety of song styles and the character development required to hold the audience’s interest. Luckily, the current North Shore Music Theatre production includes the terrific Broadway veterans Dee Hoty, George Dvorsky, and local favorite Kathy St. George, who do their best to spin straw into gold.
Like the movie, which also starred Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, the musical “9 to 5” follows three oppressed office workers who take revenge on their nasty boss. The film came at a time when the women’s movement had taken hold, and the overturning of stereotypes struck a note of truth, leavened by wacky comedy. The problem is that, 30 years later, the premise of male bosses overtly groping their female employees comes off as not just outdated but so creepy that it fails to be funny.
Although Parton tapped screenwriter Patricia Resnick to adapt the story line for the stage, Resnick has written a superficial version that feels like it was dashed off on a napkin rather than created in collaboration with the composer. Perhaps Parton felt she could develop the characters and move the narrative with her music, but the only song that seems heartfelt, besides the title number, is “Backwoods Barbie,” which she lifted from her 2008 album of that name. The rest of the songs either try too hard to explain characters or situations, or simply sound the same.
Some songs land with a thud. When the long-suffering Violet (Hoty) imagines becoming the CEO of the company, she sings “One of the Boys,” even as the lyrics suggest she would do a better job because she’s not one of the boys. Still, Hoty gamely delivers the number and is such a gifted comic that she can make the show’s lamest lines work. Her costars, Holly Davis as Judy, the newest employee, and Shayla Osborn as Doralee, the Parton stand-in, are competent but not commanding.
As sexist boss Franklin Hart Jr., Dvorsky manages to both growl and purr as he hams it up in “Here for You.” He makes his character’s abhorrent traits crystal clear while also giving Hart a much-needed dose of humanity, but Resnick has the other characters list his qualities — “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” — so many times that the audience may start to fantasize about taking revenge on this musical.
St. George steals the show as Roz, Hart’s personal secretary, who has a thing for her boss. While the song “Hart to Hart” is entirely forgettable, St. George’s performance is absolutely inspired.
Director and choreographer Richard Stafford cleverly works props into the chorus’s moves: file folders, telephones, coffee cups, and even a blow-dryer. But by the second act, the music is so unvarying that he is reduced to marching the ensemble around in circles. The film “9 to 5” was goofy fun, but the stage version flattens it into a garish cartoon.
Terry Byrne can be reached at