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9 to 5, The Musical, Reviewed

Joan Davies finds the Dolly Parton inspired show lacking edge

Published on October 19th 2012.

9 to 5, The Musical, Reviewed

MANCHESTER's Opera House is hosting the UK premiere of ‘9 to 5 The Musical’. 

Overall the ‘9 to 5 The Musical’is quite enjoyable, but fairly forgettable. It breaks no boundaries in any direction. 

Based on the 1980 film and with specially written songs by Dolly Parton the musical takes us back to 1979. It's a perfect show, according to Dolly Parton, for anyone who's ever wanted to 'string up their boss'. Quite a few of us I'd guess. 

The story is based around the successful attempts of three women office workers to overthrow the regime of their sexist intimidating boss and be recognised for their real merits, not just their appearance and housework skills.

Ben_Richards_As_Franklin_Hart_And_Amy_Lennox_As_Doralee_Rhodes_In_9_To_5_-_The_Musical_Photo_Credit_Simon_Annand_%283%29[1]Photo: Simon Annand

The plot is loose, the stereotypes huge, the reversals rather too easy and the women’s strategy actually horrendous. Never having seen the film I seemed to be in a tiny minority in the audience and was bemused by the early presentation of a still-familiar sexist and visually dreary workplace as entertainment.

Not for long. Secretary Doralee, the Dolly Parton film-part, played with style by Amy Lenox, tells boss Franklin Hart [Ben Richards] not to make another indecent remark or she’ll use her handbag gun to turn him "from a rooster to a hen with one shot". Everyone cheers, even the men. I momentarily warm to US gun laws. 

Once her damaged reputation is shown to be false Doralee is able to befriend colleagues Violet [Jackie Clune] and new recruit Judy [Natalie Casey] and the three form an unbreakable bond, rather like the girls in the Bunty comic I used to read, to root out evil, and make work happy. They succeed. It is rather comic-book. 

But it’s good fun. The second act, when the women are calling the shots, is the stronger, mostly lively and bright; the drab office and the worst of late 70s fashions brighten up, family-friendly policies reach the workplace and as a consequence productivity rises by 20%. The evil boss is banished and all live happily ever after, with the women in charge. 

Ensemble pieces are strong, and individual performances largely impressive. Bonnie Langford as boss-worshiper Roz gives a traditional musical theatre performance, every word and note clear, every beat hit in the centre.

Amy Lenox has the most difficult role, taking the part everyone knows belongs to Dolly. She manages this superbly, with warmth, humour and a delightful singing voice. Jackie Clune and Natalie Casey add to the mix of characters. They’re aided by an excellent band and impressive sound-engineering, though somewhat curtailed by the need to push desks around at almost every scene change. Pushing a desk does tend to hamper choreography. 

Photo: Simon AnnandPhoto: Simon Annand

There was some hope that Dolly Parton herself might grace the Press Night performance, but in the event we saw her only through a pre-recorded film slotted into a projected front-of-stage clock-face. The audience whooped with delight but really it’s something of a cheat, and a tactic I hope doesn’t catch on.

Increasingly directors are effectively using filmed inserts to extend audience involvement and story telling, but that’s filmed inserts of actors on stage, not on the other side of the Atlantic. 

Dolly’s presence, was more telling elsewhere. A prolific and often superb song-writer with a dynamic personality she doesn’t need an artificial film presence to make her influence felt.

The anthemic ‘9 to 5’ opens and closes the show, its opening beats wonderfully reflecting the morning rush to work and the multi-voice chorus hinting at the need for colleagues to pull together to get through the day. The remaining newly Parton-penned songs were unfortunately far more forgettable, though the duet for Joe [Mark Willshire] and Violet, ‘Let Love Grow’, is romantically pretty and tenderly sung, with traces of country phrasing and harmony. 

Overall the ‘9 to 5 The Musical’is quite enjoyable, but fairly forgettable. It breaks no boundaries in any direction. If you loved the film and love Dolly Parton it probably won’t disappoint, but I’m not surprised it ran for less than six months on Broadway.  

Until Saturday 20 October, MANCHESTER OPERA HOUSE. Perf times: Mon–Sat eves 7.30pm. Thur and Sat mats 2.30pm. Ticket prices: £15-£42. Box Office 0844 871 3018 | www.atgtickets.com /manchester

Photo: Simon AnnandPhoto: Simon Annand

Photo: Simon AnnandPhoto: Simon Annand

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