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Review of 9 to 5 The Musical at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

9 to 5 The Musical
9 to 5 The Musical

A fellow audience member was getting irritated, quite justifiably, by recurring alarm clock sounds even before the show began. These sounds were part of this production of 9 to 5 The Musical, and not some external noise coming from elsewhere: should you happen to find yourself listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording, it does indeed open with an alarm clock going off, but it only lasts for a few seconds and does not keep sounding.

Once this production got underway with the title musical number, it was immediately clear that this journey was going to be a bumpy ride. The choreography is over-elaborate for somewhere like Sadler’s Wells, let alone a relatively small pub theatre. The cast are certainly put through their paces in the livelier numbers, though much of it comes across as trying too hard. The routines are, on occasion, so forceful and brisk that the company ends up slightly but noticeably out of sync with one another. They do their best, and are a skilful group, but the song and dance numbers could be significantly toned down, particularly as some of the songs drive the narrative forward.

Some of the vocals could be toned down too. They got progressively louder as the evening went on, until Act Two’s ‘Get Out and Stay Out’. Judy Bernly (Amanda Coutts) continues to scream at the offending character in question to, well, get out and stay out, after he has already done so, making the scene dramaturgically inept. The song then becomes an opportunity to belt as loudly as possible, at the expense of the portraying of any genuine emotion, even of anger. I was distinctly underwhelmed by what felt like more of an audition for a role in a show than an eleven o’clock number in a fully-fledged musical production.

This is, in the end, a musical, with a rather contrived and disagreeable storyline, insofar as the notion that physical violence is a viable entrepreneurial trait is seriously entertained. In the tedium of three ‘I wish’ songs (that is, numbers in which someone sings about their unhappiness at their current situation and what they would like to happen in an ideal world) one after another – ‘Dance of Death’, ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’ and ‘Potion Notion’ – my thoughts wandered freely to other matters. I also found myself struck by a prop, presumably unintentionally, in the dying moments of the first half. I was not impressed.

There are some redeeming qualities. Pippa Winslow as Violet Newstead portrays the lead protagonist with poise and confidence, while the endearing nature and boy-next-door charm of Matthew Chase’s Joe, a junior accountant, was refreshing in a production with so many other characters with sour grapes and unpleasantness. The five-strong band, led by Oliver Hance, is a pleasure to listen to. The accents are, for the most part, convincingly Southern American.

But such was the dark atmosphere created by the office politics of a previous generation that moments of comic relief were insufficient to lift the gloomy mood, which prevailed despite, for instance, the sprightliness of the Act One closing number ‘Shine Like The Sun’. The jokes and punchlines, none of which are worth regurgitating here irrespective of the risk of spoilers, fell flat with me, though I concede some (but by no means all) of the rest of the audience were adequately amused. Overall, however, this was a test of endurance. 7:30 to 9:45 left me, to misquote ‘9 to 5’, yawning and stretching and trying to come to life.

2 gold stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

9 To 5 The Musical, with music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, is based on the seminal 1980 hit movie. Set in the late 1970s this hilarious story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era is outrageous, thought-provoking, and even a little romantic.

Pushed to the boiling point, three female co-workers concoct a plan to get even with the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot they call their boss. In a hilarious turn of events, Violet, Judy and Doralee live out their wildest fantasy – giving their boss the boot! While Hart remains “otherwise engaged,” the women give their workplace a dream makeover, taking control of the company that had always kept them down.

Hey, a girl can scheme, can’t she?

The production is directed by Joseph Hodges, with Musical Direction by Oliver Hance, Choreography by Chris Whittaker and Casting by Harry Blumenau.

Leading the cast as the three female office workers who turn the tables on their sexist boss are Amanda Coutts (We Will Rock You, Starlight Express, Footloose) as Judy Bernly, Pippa Winslow (The Sound of Music, Sister Act, Phantom of the Opera) as Violet Newstead, and Louise Olley (Dreamboats and Petticoats, Allegro) as Doralee Rhodes.
Leo Sené (Ghost) plays the sexist and egotistical Franklin Hart, Jr. with adoring sidekick Roz Keith played by Samantha Giffard (Little Shop of Horrors, Children of Eden). Matthew Chase (Stiles and Drew’s Peter Pan) plays love interest Joe. Completing the cast are Samuel Knight as Dwayne / Dick, Mark Houston as Josh / Tinsworthy, and Rachel Ivy as Margaret.

9 to 5 The Musical
30th August – 1st October 2017


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