Thursday, 14 February 2013

Theatre review: 9 to 5

I don't know how many times I watched 9 to 5, the Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton movie about disgruntled office workers when I was a kid, but it must have been a lot, I have very fond memories of it. Parton's stage musical version with a book by Patricia Resnick had a brief run on Broadway and now debuts in the UK in a touring production, which this week turns up in Richmond. A huge clock dominates Kenneth Foy's set, and a video projection of Parton herself appears in the clock face intermittently to act as narrator, looking a bit like the Teletubbies face in the Sun if it had a couple of moons orbiting it. She introduces Violet (Jackie Clune,) Doralee (Amy Lennox) and newcomer Judy (very good understudy Gemma McLean,) whose working lives are made a nightmare by sexist, embezzling CEO Franklyn Hart (Mark Moraghan.)

The trio fantasize about killing their boss, but when Violet accidentally puts rat poison in his coffee, a series of comic misunderstandings ends up with them keeping Hart tied up in his own home, while they try to avoid the attentions of his smitten PA Roz (Bonnie Langford.)

Other than the addition of a love interest for the widowed Violet in the form of Joe (Mark Willshire) the musical sticks pretty closely to the original film's story, and is none the worse for it. Most of the jokes come straight from Resnick and Colin Higgins' screenplay, and so if they don't always elicit the biggest laughs there is always an atmosphere of huge fun. The title song remains the best but Parton is a good enough songwriter that the rest of the score isn't in its shadow with a lot of foot-tapping numbers, some with a country edge, others more traditional musical theatre fare. (Although, while using the phrase "Sexist, Egotistical, Lying, Hypocritical Bigot" from the famous dream sequence as a song title is an admirable effort, it still doesn't come anywhere close to scanning.)

All three of the leading ladies get their chance to shine in big numbers, Clune with "One of the Boys," McLean (understudying for Natalie Casey, pictured) with the belter "Get Out and Stay Out." Surely the hardest job has to be Lennox's, as she's playing the role originated by Parton herself, so will inevitably invite comparisons - she's well up to the task though both in voice and brassy lovability.

Langford meanwhile enjoys playing against the squeaky-clean perception of her as the sex-starved Roz, her ability to still do the splits at 48 being used to good comic effect on more than one occasion.

Jeff Calhoun's production basically hits all the right camp notes, although for me his choreography was pure cheese, and not in an ironic way. The show has all the fun mixed with feminist anger of the original, while the added distance from the 1979 setting lends an extra level of disbelieving criticism of a working environment where a bit of light sexual harassment was all part of a day's work. In the main though 9 to 5 brought back a lot of fond memories for me (although from my own subsequent experience, female bosses are more likely to be the ones demanding personal items be taken off desks than restoring them.)

9 to 5 the Musical by Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick, based on the screenplay by Colin Higgins and Patricia Resnick, is booking until the 16th of February at Richmond Theatre; then continuing on tour to Torquay, Norwich, Milton Keynes, Truro, Bristol, Swansea, Hull, Sheffield, Southampton, Wolverhampton, Leeds, Nottingham, Belfast, Aberdeen, Canterbury and Cardiff.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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