Review by: Mark Shenton
Sometimes theatre is all in the timing. When the 1980 comedy 9 to 5 was first turned into a Broadway musical in 2009, it was just the latest in a run of film titles being opportunistically adapted for the stage; and it duly ran for only five months there. But now, in the wake of #MeToo, its story about sexual harassment and bullying in the office place, as well as unequal pay and opportunities for female workers there, carries a new resonance and relevance.
And now when the tables are turned on the boss of Consolidated Industries – and he ends up trussed up in his own bondage fetish gear hanging from the ceiling – there’s a lot to cheer about. Finally, justice is being done. And this is no longer a fantasy wish fulfilment; women ARE now claiming their rightful space, and not just in Broadway musicals (though opening across the street from the Savoy at the Adelphi, Waitress also tells of a downtrodden woman asserting her power; and is made by a female-led creative team of writer, composer, director and choreographer that is its own assertion of that).
It turns an also-ran musical into something bang up-to-date – and a smart, fast brand-new production also pitches it with supreme confidence that’s full of both wit and grit.
As with The Witches of Eastwick, another film-to-stage adaptation that premiered at Drury Lane in 2000 and is long overdue for revival, there are three female protagonists who do battle with a manipulative man – and come out on top. Caroline Sheen, who played a teenager in that musical, now graduates 19 years later to playing the mother of a teenage son (one who shares his spliffs with her, something she notes is a triumph of good parenting). She’s a widowed woman who is the senior office administrator – and is overlooked for a promotion in favour of a man she actually trained.
Sheen has come to this role only after Louise Redknapp, who was originally announced to play it, fell and fractured her wrist on the way to rehearsals; yet Sheen might, like Violet Newstead she is now playing, be considerably more qualified to lead a West End musical after starring roles in Mary Poppins, Les Miserables and more.
Regardless, she is absolutely sensational here, full of grace, class and determination. She is superbly joined by Amber Davies as an office newbie Judy Bernly, who is forced to take a job after her husband leaves her for his secretary; Davies may have gained fame through ITV’s reality show Love Island, but she wins it back here. The trio is completed by the scintillating Natalie McQueen, an avatar for Parton herself as Doralee Rhodes, the secretary mistaken for the boss’s mistress.
There’s also brilliant casting from two stage veterans: Brian Conley and Bonnie Langford are game sports as the nasty boss Franklin Hart and his devoted secretary (and office spy) Roz Keith, both spending part of the evening sporting only versions of underwear. Langford comes close to stealing the show and walking away with it in her big number “5 to 9”, where she laments those hours that she’s not at the office near her idol.
But the show also has another coup: Dolly Parton herself introduces the show and joins in the title opening song “9 to 5” by video. The priceless presence and spirit of Dolly hovers over the entire show.
Director Jeff Calhoun and choreographer Lisa Stevens keep the show bubbling with a sparkling, propulsive effervescence, and Tom Rogers’s design is dominated by receding banks of office computer screens and Nina Dunn’s video projections that supply their own wit.
9 to 5 the Musical is at the Savoy Theatre until 31st August.
Now On Stage 2019