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.