Sometimes, being a reviewer is super fun! We get tickets to all the hottest times in Chicago and the suburbs. Now since my partner Eric was in tech for his new show, I got a chance to go down and see the magnificent and legendary Dolly Parton at the opening of her musical 9 to 5.
The night was filled with excitement as I walked through the cold in the loop to the Bank of America Theater. What a romantic name for a theater! I mean, why get caught up in fancy names that bring mystique and delight to your patrons when you can name it after a group of filthy money lenders who destroyed our economy and sacrificed our well being for profits? I can see why you'd name it the Palace or the Majestic or the Neptunian, but I want to know where all this money is coming from.
And money there was, friends!
When I arrived, I was herded off the red carpet because Ms. Parton herself would be arriving in a moment to tempt us with her country girl smile and traffic cone sized hooters. Well, within a half hour there she was, shaking hands and talking to all of her fans, just like she is famous for.
That's what I WOULD be saying if she didn't show up and immediately go inside leaving all these crazy people with signs who couldn't afford tickets to this thing alone and sad.
Once I made my way inside and to my seat I was able to really take in the full glory of the old Bank Of America Theater.
You know how you can tell if a theater is fancy? Look at the ceiling. If the ceiling looks like a cake you would see at a King's wedding, then you are in a fancy theater. DON'T EAT THE CEILING!!!
My enthusiasm was even harder to contain when Governor Pat Quinn came on stage and named January 19th Dolly Parton Day in Chicago!! Then the Queen came out and graced us! It was incredible! We sang her "Happy Birthday" and we all cheered! The energy and excitement in the room was palpable and new! We were in the presence of a national treasure and none of us would ever forget this breathtaking moment of gaiety!!
Then the show started and all the excitement and exuberance in the whole world vanished.
It starts simple enough. There is a 20 minute version of the hit song "9 to 5" where every character (and some dudes who you never see again) come out and tell us about what they do in the morning before they go to work. Some of them go into the kitchen and pour themselves a cup of ambition. Others yawn and stretch and try to come to life. Others still, brush their teeth and put on pants. Some make lunch for their kids. Some take the dog for a walk. So many people doing such terribly uninteresting things.
After this opening number, I could hear the patrons behind me saying things like "What IS this?" and "How could this be?"
Unfortunately there was no time to answer them because it was right into another number that sounded exactly the same as the one before, except this one was about what you do when you get to work. Then after that number, there was another one that sounded exactly the same except this one was about being a new girl in an office. And on and on and on.
These songs were luckily broken up from time to time by some world class and truly incredible actors with the most astonishing voices you've ever heard giving the dullest performances of their lifetimes and saying lines that I bet they never thought they would have to say.
You see, when you are an actor and have a family and join a union, you don't get to do a lot of things for the "art" anymore. What you mainly get to do is musicals for elderly people.
This play is based on the movie "9 to 5" that was a huge hit in the 80's starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Dabney Coleman. The movie was an important piece about women's inequality in the work place, and while that may have been the case then, this musical is not. The show is still set in the early 80's and they sure do let you know.
Imagine for a second that this production is a poorly fashioned outhouse and sitting on top of it is a 10,000 pound coffin, full of it's own irony.
Here are some of the lines you can expect to hear:
"When I was a girl, blackberries and apples were things I used to pick behind the barn!"
"My son wants something called...an Atari!?"
"They are installing something called...an answering machine!!!?"
"It sure is GROOVY to have a lot of pubes!"
I could go on about the clunky set pieces and weirdo lighting, but here's the deal:
There's a difference between art and entertainment. People don't wanna just see art.
So the next time you are thinking about doing a one man Woyzeck with a surprise ending, realize that no one wants to see it.
On the other hand a show like 9 to 5 has nothing to offer us. There is literally NO message at all and will only be authentically enjoyed in Branson.
So we need to find some middle ground where we can say what we want, but dress it up as a neat thing for people to sing along with, or at least laugh a little.
Continuing to make art for art's sake will keep us as the second best theatre town. You gotta give people a little something to be happy they traveled from the suburbs to sit in your cold and weird little storefront theatre, and while Steppenwolf can do a Sara Kane play or a Simon Stephens play about drinking yourself to death, make sure you can do it great, or we all will suffer.
Anyway, seeing Dolly was cool and in the end, I have no regrets about going. It was a chance to kind of space out and think about grocery shopping.
If you need to make a grocery list, this play is for you!
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach