9 to 5 The Musical is at The Playhouse Theatre this week (Tue 12 to Sat 16 Nov), and if you liked the original 1980 film and also Dolly Parton’s music, then the chances are that you will like this show too, despite its many short-comings.
Originally brought to the stage in 2008, 9 to 5 The Musical has already been a huge success and winner of many prestigious theatre awards but, for me, this retro trip back to the office politics of 1980 is failing often with one-sided views in many the very statements that it is trying to make.
The problems for this production seem to start right at the promotional advertising as at the top in big bold starring letters “Dolly Parton presents”. This immediately forces the theatre on line and in print to clearly state before the show even opens, the perhaps obvious, that Dolly Parton WILL NOT be appearing live in this production. We do get to see and hear Dolly though in well designed and well used video narrator clips at times. Also not appearing in tonight’s Edinburgh performance due to being unwell was our starring lady Louise Redknapp.
It is fair to say that 9 to 5 The Musical is a show for women and perhaps you have to have been on the wrong side of office politics and sexually predatory male bosses once too often to truly understand a lot of the messages in this story. I am happy to admit that, but all too often this script reduces this very important topic to little more than pantomime boos and hisses. There is no defence of a sexually predatory boss (then or now) like Franklin Hart Jnr (Sean Needham) and I found many of the scenes in Act 1 quite uncomfortable to watch and the humour which so much of the audience found in them just escapes me. To be fair to Sean, he is very good in this role and has that lightness of touch needed for this type of “comedic role”. Sean is likeable here, perhaps too likeable, and therein is a problem in itself as it detracts from just how unpleasant a human being his character, Franklin Hart Jnr really is.
The non-availability of Louise Redknapp required a few cast changes, and Laura Tyrer, who was already scheduled to play the lead role of Violet Newstead on some of this tour’s dates, filled that role with a strong performance and style in her big “One of The Boys” dance production number. This routine by Laura and the cast is one of the few that raise the dance numbers here above the “predictable” level. Our other two leading roles stayed as per programme with Amber Davies as Judy Bernly and Georgina Castle as Doralee Rhodes. The role of office alcoholic Margaret was also moved to Stephanie Chandos performing this role. Lucinda Lawrence also provides us with an interesting Roz. It is unfortunate that Roz is written as a character who is at complete odds with the independent woman ethos of this story line and some of the scenes between Roz and Franklin Hart Jnr make at times uncomfortable viewing, and that is not the fault of either performer as the show just has too many stereotypes in it and too many important issues such as alcoholism and drug use sadly just trivialised.
9 to 5 The Musical is what it is, a light musical comedy, but there are some real-life stories here to our principal cast and the format of the show does not really give us the time or the opportunity to open up these intriguing personal dramas. We do get a hint at some of them in the lyrics of Dolly Parton’s songs, but it is all too brief an opening on a window that is far too quickly closed.
Both Amber Davies and Georgina Castle work so well here with Laura Tyrer as our “office trio” and there are some classic comedy lines for all of them, but for some reason the actual friendships that form between them seem to be very superficial. Amber Davies possibly has the best of all three characters to play with here and plays the “worldly innocent” Judy very well, reminding me so often of another innocent, Janet, in another story altogether. The shift in all of our trio’s personalities when they eventually gain the upper hand over their boss in Act II is also well performed by all.
What is always going to be one of reasons for the continuing success of this production is of course the music of Dolly Parton, and obviously a song like “9 to 5” has lost none of its appeal over the years. Dolly Parton is though, without any doubt, one of the great songwriters of her generation, and anyone who can write a song like “I Will Always Love You” so obviously knows their craft. In a production based in a competitive business world, it is also appropriate that Dolly Parton, the highly successful businesswoman, should be involved with this production.
All of the scenes and production numbers are for the most part performed slickly, although there are a few “clunky” scene changes, but the set has some obvious thought to design. There is no escaping the fact though that this is not only a 1980s story, but an American office story, and the fact that an office worker is carrying a loaded handgun to work makes me feel very uncomfortable, particularly in the world we are now living in and the all too many gun incidents I read about in the USA. The issue of workers’ rights, and in particular equality for women in the workplace, needed raised in 1980 and still needs raised, but sadly in 2019, the USA still appears to be decades behind Europe in this area.
Take 9 to 5 the Musical for what it is though, a stage musical, and just enjoy the night out.
Review by Tom King