It’s fair to say that the 9 to 5 cast and crew didn’t have the best start to their run at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham. A technical hitch disrupted opening night but normal service soon resumed and fans have been swarming to the show all week. Unusually Press Night is late in the run, and this review is coming to you late night from a tired bleary eyed Brummie off to a wedding in the morning. I shall be requesting plenty of Dolly from the DJ.
You may notice a distinct lack of photos on this review… I’ve published this even before I’ve had the official press photos! Pics to be added soon…
And indeed, you can’t escape the Queen of Country when it comes to 9 to 5. A perky Dolly is beamed across the theatre at the beginning, end and in the middle of of this production. Her face emblazons posters and programmes. Doralee Rhodes is Dolly in all but name. The original book, screenplay and stage adaptation may be by Patricia Resnick but the music and lyrics are pure Parton.
We’re transported back almost 40 years to early 80s America. Men dominate the boardrooms. Women type, file and make the tea. Office bullying, inequality and sexual harassment are rife. Hang on, things haven’t changed that much have they? But thankfully 9 to 5 gives us a trio of females prepared to kick the patriarchy up the arse in a prescient display of Girl Power.
For those unaware of the plot, three workmates plot to take revenge on their misogynistic boss Franklin Hart. They kidnap him, truss him up in his own bondage gear and take the business into their own hands. Okay, it’s not much of a plot, and it’s all a bit bonkers but let’s just go with it. It focuses largely on the “women are great, men are shit” angle. It’s all about empowerment and revenge. How great it would be if women ruled the world. Men are philanders, or bullies, or misogynists, or whiners. I end up feeling a little bit sorry for men to be honest.
And as much as it tries to be a feminist piece the show still falls back on old stereotypes. After all, the protagonists of the piece, a triumvirate of grown women, are frequently referred to as “the girls”. Leering at a shapely behind in a tight skirt still gets an uncomfortable laugh. Uptight Roz turns out to be a corseted vixen. Curvaceous Doralee wants men to see the real person beyond the boobs and big hair. Even Joe – the only sympathetic male character – is overly persistent in his romantic advances and constantly claims to know what’s best for Violet. In the words of another country and western diva: “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman“.
But despite all this, there’s a lot to like about this madcap comedy. There’s a vibrant and colourful set design by Tom Rogers, with banks of computer monitors blinking into infinity and great use of video projection. Slick and energetic choreography by Lisa Stevens make it obvious why the cast couldn’t continue with the oil slick stage on Friday night.
Reprising their London roles for the tour are Louise Redknapp as Violet Newstead and Amber Davies as Judy Bernly. Not being a Love Island watcher (apart from a temporary summer of insanity in 2018) I had no idea who Amber Davies was. But now I know that she was clearly born to be on stage after an incredible performance as naïve Judy, getting to grips with 9 to 5 work after her husband leaves her for his secretary. Her rendition of Get Out and Stay Out is one of the highlights of the show.
Louise Redknapp anchors the production perfectly as senior office supervisor Violet, reaching breaking point as she gets constantly passed over for promotion in favour of men. Her version of One of the Boys is reminiscent of Roxie from Chicago. And Georgina Castle is witty and warm as Doralee, exuding both vulnerability and sensuality. She has Parton’s Southern drawl all sewn up, particularly on Backwoods Barbie. Lucinda Lawrence steals the show as lovestruck office snitch Roz, who will stop at nothing to get her Heart to Hart. It’s a tough ask to follow ever-bendy Bonnie Langford in the role but Lawrence succeeds, with high-kicks and splits aplenty a la Ms Langford.
An honourable mention goes to Sean Needham as Franklin Hart, who spends much of the show dangling from a harness in a gimp suit.
Of course, the theme tune is iconic. Go on, tell me you haven’t already done the “dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum” at least once when you saw the title of this review. None of the other songs are quite as memorable (I felt a similar way about Kinky Boots – some great ensemble numbers but nothing which really stood out afterwards) although I enjoyed Backwoods Barbie, One of the Boys and Judy’s big number Get Out and Stay Out.
The whole show has a “tipsy-at-the-office-party” feel about it. This may be due to the pre-show and interval wine. Any mention of Judy’s ex-husband – handily called Dick – is greeted with giggles from the mainly female audience. It’s as if Parton and Resnick got off their faces on hairspray and rhinestones and decided to put together a smutty, stylish, fun female-led revenge fantasy. I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that brainstorming session.
You’ll have to be super quick to catch 9 to 5 at the Alexandra Theatre as it’s only here until Saturday 14th September. Click here to get your tickets! Or you can check out the rest of the tour dates here. 9 to 5 The Musical is also showing at the Savoy Theatre in London if you’re off down to the big smoke any time soon.