_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _20th NOV.

November 17, 2021
images © Pamela Raith 2021.

The value of stock in ‘feel-good’ has undoubtedly risen over the past couple of years. And, with escapism being a currency that musical theatre has always traded in, returning to an auditorium for a show as unapologetically and unabashedly upbeat and buoyant as 9 to 5 the Musical proves to almost be a mission statement for the role of theatre in these difficult times: a blueprint of sorts for what so many of us have missed and yearned for over the trying periods of lockdowns, locked theatres and seemingly perpetual pandemic pauses. Vicarious adventuring and wish-fulfilment, oodles of movement and music, tales of triumph over adversity.

And, naturally, plenty of colour and camp.

On which note, one of the first things you are greeted to in 9 to 5 is an enormous, glittering effigy of the show’s now-iconic title, followed shortly by a recorded video appearance from the grand dame of Country, Dolly Parton, herself.

Lending the show an instant sprinkle of showbiz (not to mention the likability factor) as she croons into her seminal pop classic, Dolly welcomes the cast to the stage and gradually introduces us to the Tomlin, Fonda and, indeed, Parton, of this newest take on the musical adaptation of the 1980 workplace fem-com.

It sets the stage for the evening’s entertainment to come, and the labels here tick plenty of welcome boxes. Safe, funny, empowering musical buoyancy that, if a little familiar, is positively rhinestoned with razzmatazz and glittering production value, courtesy of the show’s recent London tenure.

Being a show that had to jostle about both its West End and touring plans with the frustrating machinations of COVID, we are nonetheless treated here to a 9 to 5 with some added West End overtime budget thrown in, and from a superb cast to the audacious, dazzling lighting and stage design, it shows, shines and shimmers in every facet of the production.

“A 9 to 5 with some added West End overtime budget thrown in.”

Following mostly the same beats as the beloved 80s comedy, with some shrewd post-‘me too’ polishing of the script and a welcome injection of some British winks and nudges here and there (did I just hear someone mention Loose Women?) 9 to 5 follows three female office workers who have reached the end of their collective tethers when it comes to their ‘sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot’ of a boss, Franklin Hart Jnr (cover Richard Taylor Woods doing a solid job stepping in for Sean Needham on the performance reviewed).

9 to 5 the Musical first debuted in the UK in 2012 as a touring production, with a cast that included TV favourites Natalie Casey (pictured above) and Bonnie Langford. Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre has hosted every one. ofthe show’s three tours thus far.

Office supervisor Violet (Louise Redknapp) has been over-worked and overlooked for that big promotion one times too many. Busty ‘backwoods barbie’ Doralee (Stephanie Chandos) may on the surface present as ‘a Country girl’s idea of glam’, but she’s a kind-hearted, married gal at that, and doesn’t taken kindly to being leered over by her boss, or ostracised by her colleagues because of his office falsehoods. And newcomer Judy (also-newcomer Vivian Panka) is over men, period. Off of the back of a cheating husband (just wait until you hear his name) dumping her for his secretary, the last thing she needs in her new (see: first ever) job is a boss who humiliates and belittles her.

“It’s all set to a still-thumping soundtrack by Dolly herself, crammed with old classics as well as some recent favourites”

And so the unlikely trio of femme fatales set out to right some wrongs, put the hilariously loathsome Hart in his place, and maybe even send out a few wider ripples of equality and empowerment within the 1980s workforce. Their journey will see them encounter office spies (Julia J Nagle, utterly delicious gobbling up scenes and spitting them back out with gloriously camp relish as the sycophantic Roz), maybe-murders and mix-ups of mistaken identity, and a smattering of genuinely hilarious set pieces …not least of all a high-flying bedroom escapade full, quite literally, of gags.

It’s all set to a still-thumping soundtrack by Dolly herself, crammed with old classics (the titular hit itself, naturally, features prominently) as well as some recent favourites such as ‘Backwoods Barbie’, ‘Shine Like the Sun’ and ‘Let Love Grow’. It’s pretty much the exact same tightened, polished rework that director Jeff Calhoun, original Book writer Patricia Resnik, and, heck, even Dolly herself, brought to the West End and on tour back in 2019, but it’s one that made this 9 to 5 shift run smoother and punchier than ever, with the only slight tells of time being a couple of Trump-directed barbs which don’t feel as topical as they did back when he was still in office.

Back for 2021 dates and venues (being replaced by the recently-announced Claire Sweeney for ’22), Louise Redknapp is an authoritative, commanding presence as Violet, injecting just enough jaded exhaustion into the character to keep her the right side of empathetic, whilst Vivian Panka is an endearing and delightfully naive Judy who still tears through her big numbers with plenty of heart, clout and impact.

Rounding out the trio is Stephanie Chandos as Doralee, who sinks deeper into her role’s trademark southern lilt and mannerisms than pretty much any of her predecessors, and commits wholesale to the irrepressible, effusive, vibrant nature of the bubbly blonde in composure and comportment, too. It’s a treat of a turn; and whilst the character as a whole is innately the sparkiest of the lot, there’s rarely a time that Chandos is on stage where she isn’t one of the more animated or exciting presences to be watching.

“A treat of a turn; there’s rarely a time that Chandos is on stage where she isn’t one of the more animated or exciting presences to be watching.”

Elsewhere, Sarah-Marie Maxwell and Rebekah Bryant are great fun in bit parts, and Russell Dickson does a brillaint, earnest job of elevating what little he’s given to work with in a fairly rudimentary romantic subplot that, in truth, the show doesn’t really even need.

As mentioned, Tom Rogers’ and Howard Hudson’s staging and lighting design is vivid, dynamic, and littered with plenty of 80s callbacks (particularly so come an Act 2 ‘makeover’ moment), and in conjunction with a fantastic ensemble, who keep the fizz-poppery of Dolly’s music bubbling along on stage throughout, there’s plenty to be dazzled and engaged by in even the show’s quieter ebbs.

A witty, feel-good book married with an already buoyant score, brought to the stage with West End-worthy production values and staging, and a lovable cast and ensemble giving it their all, 9 to 5 the Musical doesn’t stumble outta bed and tumble onto tour… it shines like the sun and bursts onto the stage with all the vim, colour, cheeky self-awareness and irrepressible feel-good of Dolly herself. 

And that, right now, is the biggest cup of ambition we could find ourselves reaching for.

Fizzing with all the pop, colour and musicality of Parton herself, Redknapp and colleagues offer up a veritable ‘Dolly’ mixture of feisty, feminine fun and plenty of feel-good funny.


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