The Setup: Dolly Parton's musical adaptation of Patricia Resnick's hit movie (1980) received such a drubbing from the New York press when the show opened on Broadway in 2009 -- and closed five months later -- that I went to Theatre Under the Stars' touring production with, what might charitably be called, trepidation.
The Execution: Lo and behold, what did I discover but fun, laughs, and the hope that Parton writes more shows. She's quite a find, but I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, knowing her remarkably steady career and sunny audience rapport. The show's been overhauled and revamped; all the smut and smarmy parts that so put the critics into a swoon have been banished, songs have been rearranged, and the dialogue scenes edited. The best idea was to put Parton into the show. She now appears, like Glinda from Wicked, as a projection in her clock bubble above the proscenium to introduce the show and later to give us a cozy farewell. It's an inspired choice, and immediately puts us in a forgiving mood. The show's a knockoff of the movie -- three overworked secretaries take revenge on their chauvinist pig of a boss -- but Parton's efficient and tuneful score sets the whole thing rocking to a warm country beat, delineating the characters and setting the '70s scene at the beginning of the women's movement. Adroitly directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, this new production dances with fleet assurance. It never stops moving. Sets glide in or drop smoothly from the flies with a synchronization that makes a marvelous eyeful for a touring show. The disarming cast is pitch-perfect: Dee Hoty (Broadway vet) as take-charge Violet; Mamie Parris (best voice) as newly liberated Judy; and Diana DeGarmo (loveable Parton look-and-sound-alike) as sexy Doralee; with costars Joseph Mahowald and Kristine Zbornik as the office bad guys.
The Verdict: After you see this revised show, you almost want to go to work -- now that's an inspiring musical.
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(Through November 21. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887. Tickets here.)