London Theatre Review: 9 to 5 at the Savoy Theatre
| By Sandra Howell
Nearly 4 decades before #MeToo, Dolly Parton, alongside Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, starred in the comedy film 9 to 5 where 3 women secretaries navigating the misogyny of an American office in 1980 turn the tables on their male boss, who has sexually harassed and discriminated against them with impunity. It is ironic that one of the key protagonists, Violet, exclaims that she bets that their demands for equal pay for equal work, won’t even be a discussion in 10 years time, yet nearly 40 years later...
It is no surprise that the musical, based on the eponymous film, is faithful to the plot and spirit of the film. The book for the musical was written by Patricia Resnick, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. Dolly Parton herself wrote the music and lyrics for 9 to 5 the musical. With such a great legacy, who would doubt that 9 to 5 the musical excels as an entertaining musical comedy.
The humour is laugh-out-loud ranging from farce to witticisms, innuendos to slapstick. The lovely music and clever lyrics are well-matched by the brilliance of the key cast members’ acting and singing. The musical is narrated by Dolly Parton appearing in video excerpts at key moments.
Bonnie Langford is at first unrecognisable as Roz, the Boss’ assistant and eyes and ears. Seemingly buttoned up, she unleashes her pent up emotions of lust and love for Hart, the boss, in one of the best numbers ‘Heart to Hart.’ Langford is superb as the sexually repressed office spy who reveals herself, stripping down to her basque and stockings as she fantasises about Hart. It’s a hilarious performance, with Langford comically conveying Roz’s stalker-like behaviour as essentially harmless; she causes more difficulties as Hart’s spy. Langford, as you would expect, with her marvellous singing and dancing, including ending up in the splits, makes it look effortless. Langford’s Roz is empowered rather than pitiful.
Another favourite is Natalie McQueen as Doralee Rhodes. McQueen embodies Doralee, from the Southern American accent to the body language and dress of an empty-headed Barbie doll. Clearly based on Dolly Parton’s self-parody, Doralee is encapsulated in the number ‘Backwoods Barbie’ a stereotypical country girl from the South, except Doralee is smart. Singing in the country music style of Dolly Parton, the clever lyrics and upbeat music tell us that Doralee has always been misunderstood because of the way she looks and dresses, but she is not as shallow as she looks. McQueen has a fantastic voice and range, she easily adopted the vocal tics of Dolly Parton’s country singing, whilst maintaining a clear warm tone. When Doralee fights back against Hart’s constant sexual harassment in ‘Cowgirl’s Revenge’, we, the audience, cheer in support.
At times 9 to 5, knowingly, presents us with pantomime performances. Hart played by Brian Conley is a real baddie. Hart is a dangerous sexual predator and misogynist who not only blatantly sexually harasses Doralee and tells sexist jokes, but also promotes a male junior, whom Violet had trained, above Violet. However because Conley plays Hart for laughs, and it is written like this, he takes the edge off Hart’s slimy sexism and predation with Carry-on type farce and innuendo. This is sometimes crude, but very funny as we see in the numbers ‘Here for You’ and ‘Always a Woman,’ performed in Conley’s inimitable style. It is really funny when Hart is held captive by the 3 women Violet, Judy and Doralee, trussed up in his own bondage gear and suspended from the ceiling in his bedroom. He is left swinging from the ceiling as the curtain descends at the end of the first Act, with Hart responding in a very Brian Conley way.
Amber Davies is great as the initially naïve Judy, who has been abandoned by her cheating husband. She finds it difficult and we are amused, to understand how a woman of 21 can be left for a younger woman! Davies’ voice is solid, strong and clear as Judy blossoms to independence, which she shows in the number ‘Get Out and Stay Out,’ another anthem of female empowerment.
Louise Redknapp’s Violet is another strong performance, her voice is suited to the character. I enjoyed her singing with McQueen and Davies in ‘I Just Might,’ and ‘Change It.’ Their distinctive voices reflected their characters and were well blended. Redknapp was well worthy of the Busby Berkley style number ‘One of the Boys,’ a song and dance with a male ensemble.
9 to 5 the musical is packed with whip-smart and very funny one-liners in both the script and lyrics. The music is uplifting country/pop music and the songs perfect for the plot and character development of female empowerment, fighting for equality and against sexism and harassment. Most of all 9 to 5 the musical is full of warm humour and fun.
Book tickets to 9 to 5 from £24
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