There were moments during 9 to 5 The Musical, which has its origins in a 1980 motion picture of the same name, when I failed to laugh at punchlines. This was not because I was fighting the last vestiges of a bout of influenza and kept laughter to a minimum to stop myself from coughing profusely and thus disturbing the performance for others in the audience (though I was). It was more that some of the ‘jokes’ were simply unfunny. In an era of anti-sexual assault and women’s empowerment movements, the management methods of Franklin Hart Jnr (Brian Conley), chief executive officer of Consolidated Industries, come across as not only archaic but downright unpleasant.
But this was, so Dolly Parton tells the audience in the first of a number of video messages throughout the evening, the 1980s. The show’s website claims ‘Dolly Parton will not be appearing in this production’ – this is not (technically) true. Already a whole generation ago, it is perhaps somewhat damning of contemporary society that women in positions of leadership as captains of industry are still a rarity – one online article to mark International Women’s Day 2018 even asserts that there are eight CEOs in the FTSE 100 called David (or Dave), against seven female CEOs of any name. So, while some of the spoken dialogue in 9 to 5 might seem dated, it is less so than it comes across at face value. Still, the book (Patricia Resnick) isn’t much to write home about, though when someone of the likes of Parton’s calibre is responsible for the music and lyrics, that is perhaps forgivable.
What Consolidated Industries actually does remains unclear to me, as the plotline instead focuses on the lives – both professional and personal – of its characters. For those familiar with the Original Broadway Cast Recording of the show, ‘I Just Might’ now follows ‘Backwoods Barbie’, and ‘The Dance of Death’, ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’, ‘Potion Notion’ and ‘Joy to the Girls’ have been excised completely. A song called ‘Hey Boss’ now appears between ‘Heart to Hart’ and ‘Shine Like The Sun’.
Although Amber Davies’ Judy Bernly almost brings the house down (no easy feat for a West End press night) in ‘Get Out and Stay Out’, the show’s ‘eleven o’clock number’, she is still almost yelling at her ex-husband Dick (Llandyll Gove), to – well, get out and stay out, long after Dick has left the stage. Now that I did find amusing, unlike the Dick jokes which are better suited to a particular pantomime.
And there’s no escaping that a fight against injustice in the form of outdated working practices, unequal pay, inflexible working hours (and so on), led by ‘company veteran’ Violet Newstead (Caroline Sheen), involves, somewhat bizarrely, having Hart dangling from a height in (wait for it) a gimp costume. This, allegedly, is an appropriate response to him eyeing up Doralee Rhodes (Natalie McQueen) repeatedly, and almost gagging at an apparently unattractive character whose blushes I will spare here. At the risk of protesting too much, I wonder if this is all really appropriate for a musical new to the West End.
It is, I hasten to add, far from a train smash. Roz Keith (Bonnie Langford, reprising the role from a previous UK tour in 2012-13) impresses with incredible dancing skills. The set and costumes (Tom Rogers) are spot on, and the videos (Nina Dunn) are all easy on the eyes. This is, of course, a highly American show, with about as much unsubtlety as certain tennis players possess with their grunts and yelps. Handguns come out for reasons so frivolous even the National Rifle Association might be inclined to respond with, “Now, hold on a minute” or words to that effect. But there are some catchy musical numbers to enjoy in a slick and spirited production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL tells the story of Doralee, Violet and Judy – three workmates pushed to boiling point by their sexist and egotistical boss. Concocting a plan to kidnap and turn the tables on their despicable supervisor, will the girls manage to reform their office – or will events unravel when the CEO pays an unexpected visit?
Inspired by the cult film and brought to you by Dolly herself, this hilarious new West End production is about teaming up, standing up and taking care of business!
Dolly Parton presents 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL at the Savoy Theatre, London for a strictly limited season from 28 January – 31 August 2019 starring Caroline Sheen as ‘Violet Newstead’, Amber Davies as ‘Judy Bernly’, Natalie McQueen as ‘Doralee Rhodes’, Bonnie Langford as ‘Roz Keith’ and Brian Conley as ‘Franklin Hart’.
9 to 5 THE MUSICAL
Booking Period: 28 January – 31 August 2019