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.
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.