9 to 5: The Musical – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Music and Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Book: Patricia Resnick

Director: Jeff Calhoun

This beloved revenge fantasy with its advocacy of workplace equality is hard to dislike. Based on the film of the same name, the book by Patricia Resnick, who scripted the movie, retains the idea of three female office workers uniting to get their revenge on their sexist and chauvinistic boss.  Full of bawdy jokes that any panto would be proud of, 9 to 5: The Musical is a highly entertaining night out not to be missed.

It bursts into life with a video prologue delivered by Dolly Parton herself. She introduces the trinity of protagonists in turn with a series of stop-motion sequences set to the song 9 to 5 featuring herself alongside the cast. What sets this apart from other musicals based around singer-songwriters is that this is not a retrofit of Dolly’s greatest hits, Dolly has adapted music specifically for this story. She takes on the role of Narrator for the prologue of each act and indeed the epilogue at the end of the show. Her sparkly spirit lingers over the production from start to finish in a show set to enthral and excite.

Louise Redknapp takes on the role of Violet Newstead, the hard-working office supervisor and widowed single mother. Redknapp showcases her vocals with effortless poise. She carries the role beautifully with an easy stage presence no doubt perfected by years of practice as an international pop star, as well as a stint on Strictly. She has excellent stage chemistry with Vivian Panka and Stephanie Chandos, her partners in crime, and in the scenes on the roof where all three women berate their boss, Mr Hart, they encapsulate the magic of every drunken ‘girls night’.

Redknapp masterfully handles the arc of her storyline which sees her transform from tough office supervisor to comical kidnapper (and unwitting attempted murderess) to competent CEO.

Vivian Panka makes her UK stage debut in 9 to 5: The Musical, having starred in many productions in the Netherlands. An exciting musical theatre performer, she is one to watch as she will no doubt explode onto the West End stage in years to come. The tone of her voice is stunning with a vocal clarity that is rarely achievable even by the most seasoned of singers. By the time that she belts out Get Out and Stay Out in the second act, she has the audience captivated. Panka is exceptional in the role of timid Judy Bernly, a jilted wife who has been dumped for a younger woman by her husband, aptly named Dick: she handles the Dick jokes and puns with charming innocence which really punches them home.

Stephanie Chandos takes on the role of Doralee Rhodes, the part originated by Dolly Parton in the movie version of this story and arguably the role carrying the most pressure in the show. This needn’t be a concern though as Chandos encapsulates all that we love about Dolly’s rendition, without making the part a caricature or indeed losing her own interpretation of the part as an actor. She commands the stage using Dolly’s power walk and her charisma beams through every scene.

Doralee is sexually harassed by the boss on a daily basis and from her line “I’ve been fighting off much swifter men than you my whole life”, it is a sad fact that this is something her character has grown used to. In the wake of #MeToo, this story about sexual harassment and bullying in the office, as well as unequal pay and opportunities for female workers there, carries resonance and relevance.

At this performance, Richard Taylor Woods took on the unenviable task of playing hateful boss Franklin Hart Jr. He is chauvinistic and predatory in his treatment of all the women in the office, or as he calls them ‘his girls’. Whilst the character himself is truly hateful, Woods plays him with just the right amount of pantomime villainy. The dynamic between Hart and the three protagonists mirrors the formula of a Carry On film – he is a dreadful person but the show always remains light and firmly tongue in cheek.

Roz Keith, the office spy, secretly in love with Mr Hart is portrayed by Julia J Nagle. Her physical characterisation within this role is on point beginning with the Scooby Doo style, buttoned-up villain and ending with the sexually frustrated woman. Whilst certainly undignified, it is incredibly funny to see the character develop in this way. Her delivery of Heart to Hart not only shows off an incredible vocal range but her natural aptitude for comedy.

Choreographer Lisa Stevens keeps the show bubbling with a sparkling effervescence, and Tom Rogers’ design, dominated by receding banks of office computer screens, is an excellent touch in the overall feel of the show.

This is unashamedly a period piece set in the 1980’s and the bold colours and clashing patterns used within the second act after the ladies’ hostile takeover succinctly encapsulate the feel of a 1980’s office environment. It’s loud, colourful and fun and deserves to be seen

Runs until 20 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

1980s fun

The Reviews Hub - Central

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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