Jeff Calhoun’s production is plenty of fun while maintaining the story’s serious undertone of women fighting for their rights at any cost.
Based on the 1980 film and featuring music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 is a surprisingly funny (and sadly all too relevant still today) musical about fighting for your rights and against sexism at whatever cost that is directed with great liveliness by Jeff Calhoun.
Filled with big hair, bold costumes and a dose of revenge, 9 to 5 follows Violet (Caroline Sheen), Judy ( Amber Davies) and Doralee (Natalie McQueen) as they seek out revenge on their sexist boss Franklin Hart (Brian Conley) and take control of the office where they work in a quest for equality.
It has to be said that while Patricia Resnick’s book is filled with plenty of laughs, she also perfectly encapsulates the frustration caused by the blatant sexist attitudes of the era – which can still be related to in 2019. Some audience members may find the constant jokes spouted off by Franklin as despicable and dated – but that just honestly captures the era and the difficulties that women face working in a male dominated environment. The only thing is that at times the book feels slightly lacking in depth – particularly during the second act when things are going wrong for the three central characters with their boss seeking revenge. It doesn’t feel engaging enough and feels slightly rushed.
However, Dolly Parton’s music and lyrics are surprisingly catchy and work well in context of the story. Of course, the show’s most recognisable song is ‘9 to 5’ is placed early on in the production which then allows the other songs in the show to stand out without having the audience anticipating it entering the show. But there are other enjoyable songs as well such as ‘Backwards Barbie’ – beautifully performed by Natalie McQueen, it is a wonderfully sincere song that perfectly showcases Doralee’s hurt about being judged by her looks and being snubbed by her co-workers. Meanwhile, ‘Get Out, Stay Out’ is a powerful moment in the show that shows just how far Judy has come as an independent woman.
The cast are all fantastic in their roles and bring their characters to life with great energy and enthusiasm. Bonnie Langford as Roz is absolutely hilarious as she longs for Franklin to notice her and sweep her off her feet – her rendition of ‘Heart to Hart’ is wonderfully comical. Natalie McQueen is also a delight to watch as Doralee – light and bubbly but with a feisty side as we see in the way she handles Franklin. Amber Davies and Caroline Sheen give confident performances that are nicely controlled, while Brian Conley as the sleazy Franklin puts his comical skills to great use leading to some genuinely funny moments – even if he is a genuinely unpleasant character to play as made clear in ‘Here For You’.
All of the elements in the show work well together from Lisa Stevens’ lively and sharp choreography to the slick set design by Tom Rogers, the production runs smoothly from one scene to the next. It might not change your life but there is no denying that 9 to 5 is bundles of fun and a surprise treat on the West End.
By Emma Clarendon