9 to 5 The Musical
Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick based on her original screenplay
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
Slick and stylish, 9 to 5 The Musical has "poured itself a cup of ambition" and truly risen to the challenge.
9 to 5 The Musical opened in January 2019 just a few months before the pandemic struck, and even in that short time it garnered rave reviews and quickly amassed a fan club. Based on the '80s film starring Dolly Parton, this fun, feminist romp has easily transferred to the stage.
Some might expect a Dolly Parton jukebox musical from the title, but in fact she wrote the famous song as the title track for the hit film of the same name. The rest of the music and lyrics are also by Dolly, and she herself appears in a video prologue and continues to sparkle as narrator throughout the show. This is the story of three secretaries who have the most misogynistic, sexist and belittling boss and they decide to kill him. They’re overlooked by the boys' club, underpaid and overworked. Stopping a little short of murder, the three women take the boss hostage and hatch a plot to turn the tables.
The witty book is by Patricia Resnick and is deftly brought to life with tongue-in-cheek choreography from Lisa Stevens which is delivered with tight precision and bundles of energy by the ensemble. With effective design by Tom Rogers, the stage is surrounded by old desktop computers making four huge arcs within which a number of office sets are whisked in and out at lightning speed. The palette change in act 2 to the 1980s colourful graphics is a great contrast and gives opportunity for an array of fabulous costumes.
The band performs brilliantly under Dean Mcdermott, and it makes such a difference to have a live 8-piece ensemble with brass and woodwind rather than a couple of key players with recorded effects.
Violet, the overlooked veteran of the office, is played by Claire Sweeney, who rocks the power suits and storms the stage with her jaded dry humour. Doralee is brought to life by Stephanie Chandos who has does a fine impersonation of Dolly Parton, although her vocal agility needs a little work. She certainly looks the part though, and gets a lot of laughs from her well-timed physical comedy.
Violet, Vivian Panka, is the new girl who starts out timid and downtrodden but grows a backbone throughout. Her power ballad "Get Out and Stay Out" received the loudest applause and proved that although this role is Panka’s professional UK debut, she is easily the most accomplished singer onstage. Company CEO Franklin Hart Jr. is played by Sean Needham who does the randy boss terrifyingly well, and is clearly having a lot of fun in the part!
Though some people have complained that it is too silly and has mixed messages as we laugh at the antics of the badly behaved boss, I find this is a very well written and directed show which manages to delicately walk the line between hilarity and continuously reinforcing the message that women are undervalued and mistreated.
The only downer in this show is the depressing reality that we’ve still not achieved equality in pay and promotion which Patricia Resnik clearly hoped was around the corner when she wrote the movie 40 years ago. Otherwise, this is a decidedly fun, colourful and spectacularly performed musical which is definitely worth watching.
Reviewer: Louise Lewis