Tag Archives: 9 to 5

Piece of Work

9 To 5

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 16th November, 2021

Colin Higgins’s 1980 film came out when the world of work was very different.  The story of three secretaries who take on their sexist boss and change working conditions within a corporation now plays out like a period piece.  One of the film’s stars, Dolly Parton, provides the songs for this stage musical adaptation, introduces the action and gives a bit of narration via video.  Video Dolly even sings the opening number, the famous title song, with the entire company joining in.  It’s a rousing start and the best song in it.

Things soon slow down as characters are introduced.  And they each must get their solo, slowing down the action.  The women’s revenge fantasies about their sleazy boss become reality and what should be fast-paced farce is hampered by more songs and soul-searching.

Leading the cast is Louise Redknapp, flexing her comedy chops as Violet, the most straight-laced of the trio.  Redknapp is in good voice and gives an assured performance while Stephanie Chandos’s Doralee Rhodes inevitably channels Dolly P, to amusing effect.  Funniest of the three is Vivian Panka as new girl Judy, whose sweetness and naivete are swept aside when events get out of control.  When all three sing together, the harmonies are wonderful.  It sounds like Redknapp has found herself another girl band!

As the sleazeball Mr Hart for this performance, Richard Taylor Woods is deliciously abhorrent, although perhaps he’s too fit for the role. Give Hart a beer belly and a combover to make him thoroughly repugnant, I say! This would certainly heighten the contrast between Hart and Violet’s handsome love interest, Joe (Russell Dickson).

Julia J Nagle is in excellent form in a show-stealing portrayal of the sexually frustrated office snitch Roz, with a hilarious song about her lust for the boss.  It’s a pity Roz is exiled for most of the second act. 

But no matter how expertly the musical numbers are staged and how energetically they are performed by the hugely talented cast, what we get is a stop-start farce with some very funny scenes, interrupted by introspective songs that are tonally at odds with the comedy.  What it has to say about sexual equality and harassment in the workplace has been, largely, overtaken by the real world, so the piece is no longer a clarion call.  The women resort to kidnap to get their way, reminding us that many of our rights have been fought for by direct, often criminal, action.  Think of the Suffragettes.  And Stonewall.

Not every film has to be adapted into a musical.  This one would work just as well, if not better, as a play.

★★★

On the job: Sean Needham and Stephanie Chandos (Photo: Pamela Raith Photography)

Personnel Problems

9 to 5

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 19th December, 2012

 

Colin Higgins’s 1980 film is the latest to be adapted to the stage as a musical in this Dolly Parton-led venture, currently doing the rounds.  I’m not against film adaptations as such – Sister Act, I think, actually improved on the original incarnation – but others like Legally Blonde for example did nothing for me.

The show wisely keeps the setting.  There is a front cloth covered with faces from the era.  I had fun naming them before the curtain went up: Rocky, Burt Reynolds, Donna Summer, Barbra with a perm, the Ayatollah Khomeini…  It all helps to set the tone.  The score has a late 70s vibe to it and the wigs and costumes are all perfectly in keeping.

And yet…

It begins with a video of Dolly Parton, projected onto a giant clock face.  She reminds us to turn our phones off before watching over the opening number (the famous theme song) like a pneumatic goddess.  She reappears at intervals to deliver a patronising kind of narration we don’t really need.

The chorus make a song and dance about working in an office.  They pirouette around, clutching memos.  It’s hardly Jean Valjean on the chain gang.   The three main characters are singled out.  We have Jackie Clune in the Lily Tomlin role as Violet, a bossy widow, frustrated by being overlooked for promotion yet again.  There is Amy Lennox in Dolly’s part as Doralee, the boss’s secretary and subject of office gossip; and best of the crop, Natalie Casey as newly divorced and new to work, Judy, the role played on screen by Jane Fonda.  The women each get their solo numbers to give them emotional depth.  The songs are serviceable but there is nothing of the calibre of the theme song or Parton’s other classics like Jolene and I Will Always Love You.  I can’t see any of the numbers working outside the context of the piece.

When the plot gets going, the screwball comedy aspects of the film come to the fore.  The women fantasise about getting their revenge on the boss and then events transpire to make their dreams come true.  What should be madcap and farcical is continually interrupted as they break off to perform another song.  When they should be cranking up the comic tension, they’re swanning around with the chorus.

The boss, Ben Richards, is a pre-David Brent monster, a sexist womaniser and a crook.  Richards has a touch of the Tom Jones in his vocal stylings and makes an affable villain.  He wouldn’t get away with it, one hopes, in this day and age.

The women, like the Witches of Eastwick, bring about a paradigm shift in the office.  They instigate job sharing, childcare and even rehab for the office drunk, but they have to go through kidnapping and attempted murder rather than working to rule or striking to gain the working conditions we take for granted today.  The show at least points out how far we have come, although some of the lines about inequality of pay for men and women doing the same job still ring true.

I came away amused and impressed by the quality of the performances.  Natalie Casey is particularly good but I couldn’t help feeling it would have been better as a play.  Unfortunately, if you ditched the musical numbers, you would be denied the absolute treat of seeing Bonnie Langford as frustrated frump Roz, letting her hair down and stripping to her underwear in a raunchy show-stopping routine that involves her doing the splits upside down on a sofa.  Langford is an old school all-rounder who can belt out a song and moves like a dream.  She exudes razzmatazz – there must be a show out there that can capitalise on her considerable talents.

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