9 to 5 the Musical
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Book by Patricia Resnick
Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Choreographed by Lisa Stevens
Nottingham Theatre Royal – Touring
Tuesday 26th October – Saturday 30th October
Like Dolly Parton herself, 9 to 5 the Musical proves a huge crowd pleaser. It is big, bold, and brash, yet wins our hearts, nonetheless. From the very minute you enter the auditorium and take in the set design, you realise that this is a show with bling and zing.
Dolly makes an appearance via video screen to introduce us to the characters and the set-up and it seems fitting that she should ‘take ownership’ given the popularity of the music and the 1980’s film from which this production is derived. 9 to 5, the song is both behemoth and earworm, synonymous with office life and office politics. The crowd tonight appear to know every word and are not shy about joining in.
The plot is simple enough. Three secretaries at ‘Consolidated Industries’ are each unhappy with their sexist, egomaniacal boss, Franklin Hart Jr. (Sean Needham) who they describe as ‘a peacock crossed with a rabid dog, with a lower I.Q.’ They also want to see change initiated in the workplace, so that the women can be on an equal footing with the men. Violet (Louise Redknapp) is forever waiting for a promotion that never comes, Doralee (Stephanie Chandos) is sexually harassed by the boss, whilst Judy (Vivian Panka) has her pay docked for no good reason. Pushed to their limits, this intrepid trio decide enough is enough.
Violet is the matriarch of the group and the glue that holds the office together. In keeping with her character, Redknapp is professional, proficient, and purposeful. There is much to enjoy in her portrayal, not least in her pleasing singing voice.
Panka is sweetly naïve as Judy, trying to learn the ropes and fend for herself after her husband has deserted her for a younger woman. Doralee is just like Dolly, a country girl with a heart of gold. She is ostracised by her colleagues after they wrongly assume she is sleeping with Hart Jr.
The set design by Tom Rogers is ingenious. Lightboxes in the shape of desktop computers frame the stage and are used to vivid effect, as is the digital backdrop which provides myriad displays in keeping with each scene. All the metropolitan trappings and office paraphernalia are there, including skyscrapers, revolving doors, desks, sofas, and giant photocopiers.
The ensemble is brilliantly adept at moving props around to segue from one scenario to the next. ‘Around Here’ is one of my favourite numbers in the way that Lisa Stevens so cleverly choreographs it. The ‘office workers’ use the whole stage and most of the props in a seamless kaleidoscope of dance. Hart Jr. is heard to say, ‘A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,’ and I am delighted to say that there are no weak links with these ‘employees.’
I also took immense pleasure in the 1980’s style costumes. There are shoulder pads, double-breasted jackets, and pencil skirts galore. In fact, there is everything an 80’s aficionado could want, even down to crimped hair and pussybows. The Costume department have clearly had a great deal of fun with this one. There are some unexpected quick changes too, that I do not wish to give away. Suffice to say, I hope you find them as amusing as I do.
9 to 5 the Musical is full of hilarious one-liners delivered to maximum comic effect. The time zips along at a heady pace, just like the musical numbers. If the plot is somewhat contrived and the resolution too neatly packaged, I do not think that matters. 9 to 5 the Musical is more about entertaining the audience in a way that is not too heavy-handed yet makes its point just the same. We could go on to speculate what all this means through the lens of ‘Me too’, my conclusion being that there is still a long way to go.
Notwithstanding, this production is resolutely optimistic. The women, not ‘girls’ are taking back their lives and dreaming big. If you are looking for a toe-tapping nugget of entertainment gold, then 9 to 5 the Musical may prove just the ticket.
Running Time – Act 1: 1 hour 10 mins
Act 2: 45 mins