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9 to 5: The Musical – Milton Keynes Theatre

Book: Patricia Resnick

Music and Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Director: Jeff Calhoun

Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen

Reviewer: Gemma Fincher

If you are looking for a musical with big hair and even bigger belts, then look no further than Dolly Parton’s ultimate feel-good musical of female empowerment, 9 to 5 The Musical. The queen of country music’s signature style is all over this big, bold and bright production, which is a sheer delight from beginning to end; proceedings are even introduced by the woman herself as the show kicks off with a level of energy that does not wane.

9 to 5 The Musical is based on the 1980 movie starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly herself. The musical follows much the same plot and revolves around an unlikely trio of women who bond over their disdain for their sexist, bigoted and egotistical boss Franklin Hart Junior. Although the piece is very much tongue-in-cheek it does highlight the long-term inequalities between men and women in the workplace and the desire of strong women to challenge the status quo.

You only have to go back as far as 2008 for the Broadway premiere of the musical and although its run in the Big Apple was relatively short the show has enjoyed a number of revivals and has done very well in the UK. A new production of the show opened in London in February 2019 to rave reviews and following its success a UK tour, headed by star of the West End production Amber Davies, was announced. Several others of the West End cast including Louise Redknapp, Brian Conley and Caroline Sheen will be performing at selected venues.

The West End cast of 9 to 5 The Musical is undeniably strong and the tour cast match them as the highly accomplished and slick ensemble tear through the opening number of the iconic 9 to 5. With Louise Redknapp otherwise engaged understudy Laura Tyrer steps into the role of the ambitious and regularly overlooked office supervisor Violet Newstead. Tyrer is a joy in the role and brings authority and class to the exasperated Violet. Her vocals and movements are on point and more than holds her own in arguably the role that glues the narrative together.

Georgina Castle takes up the role of Doralee Rhodes, the character made famous by Dolly herself, and brings every inch of Dolly’s personality as well as adding her own flair to the part. Vocally accomplished, she brings a warm vulnerability to Doralee who is shunned by her colleagues due to a belief that she is sleeping with the boss. Her emotional and raw performance of Backwards Barbie is one of the highlights of the first act delivered beautifully by Castle whose sensitivity to the character is balanced perfectly with the comedic elements of the role.

The trio is completed by Amber Davies, fresh from her run in the West End as the timid, divorcee Judy Bernly forced into work thanks to being left high and dry by her cheating husband, appropriately named Dick. More than a few eyebrows were raised at the apparent stunt casting of Davies, thanks in the main to her stint on Love Island. What many don’t know is that Davies is a fully-fledged and trained musical theatre actor and consistently delivers a show stealing performance. Her decision to embark on the UK tour of the show will no doubt showcase her talents to the rest of the country and cement her thoroughly deserved place as a bone fide musical theatre performer. Davies’ commitment to the role of Judy is a delight; her journey from fish-out-of-water to a confident and assured independent woman is joyous. Without a doubt the show’s standout moment is her solo of Get Out and Stay Out which has the ultimate wow-factor, is note perfect and earns her rapturous applause. Davies is nothing short of an inspired casting.

Brian Conley is only performing at Milton Keynes on the tour and brings his usual legendary comedic style and swagger to proceedings. The performance is quintessential Conley. Franklin Hart is horribly chauvinistic, cracking sexist jokes left right and centre, but thanks to Conley’s delivery he gets away with it. Performers with less of a comedic flair would likely not. You can see that Conley revels in the role of Hart and he is utterly hilarious. Milton Keynes loves Brian Conley and it is a treat for the venue and audiences alike to have secured him for the week’s residency.

Lucinda Lawrence puts in a solid turn as Roz Keith, Hart’s lovelorn administrative assistant. Lawrence’s Act 1 solo of Heart to Hart is side-splittingly funny, choreographed beautifully by Lisa Stevens and delivered flawlessly by Lawrence and Conley.

Tom Rogers’ sliding set design works in the main save from a few wobbles and the ensemble work incredibly hard to move the set around at pace. Nina Dunn’s video design brings a slightly modern twist to proceedings adding to the visual appeal of the piece with an effective backdrop that complements the look and feel of the staging.

If you are looking for an evening of escapism at the theatre, then look no further than 9 to 5 The Musical. The show has nailed the magical musical formula, a strong, committed cast, a great score full of classics and comedy that beautifully delivers a serious message.

What are you waiting for? Tumble outta bed and book a ticket…

Runs Until 28 September 2019 and on tour  | Image: Simon Turtle

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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