Reviewed by Kat Harrison
If ever there was a need for a feel-good show, it’s now. As theatres work hard to get back on track, it was lovely to see Bradford’s beautiful Alhambra Theatre reopen with a cheery bit of ‘fluff’ that somehow manages to advocate workplace equality. ‘9 to 5 The Musical’ unashamedly calls out the decade in which it is set but is it really of our time?
Starring the popular Louise Redknapp and featuring an original Oscar, Grammy and Tony award-nominated score by country legend and pop icon Dolly Parton, ‘9 to 5’ transports us to an American office in the 1980s.
With some clever narration from Dolly herself, cleverly and neatly integrated into the live action in video form, we join Doralee, Violet and Judy, three secretaries pushed to the limit by their slimy, smug, selfish, self-absorbed, sexist boss.
The show was well-received by the audience, with many laughing out loud at a range of farcical, innuendo and slapstick style jokes. There were a few one-liners that failed to summon a laugh, perhaps with delivery that needs a little tweak.
It was a bit too ‘pantomime’ for me, though, that said, I did come round to it, largely due to the performance from Sean Needham who plays boss ‘Hart.’ From an immediate dislike of the character and the whole concept of a misogynist predator who revels in telling sexist jokes, Needham succeeded in taking the edge off; creating a character you love to hate, rather than just hate.
The country-pop music score is catchy and uplifting and the lyrics succeed in conveying both the story and the characters’ feelings. Maybe it’s the familiarity of Dolly’s much-loved tune but ‘9 to 5’ is still head and shoulders above the other songs; but then it is iconic. For me, it was the lyrics rather than the script that gave rise to a giggle.
The plot, which may have roots in the grim reality of unequality for women in the workplace, is actually full of fun. 40 years after the story was written, the line from Violet betting that their demands for equal pay for equal work, won’t even be a discussion in 10 years time, is somewhat ironic.
The musical’s themes of equality for women and standing up for your rights remain relevant today. And it’s the battle, and ultimately ‘the win’ for Girl Power that creates warmth, a likeability and adds context which makes the sexist humour tolerable.
The staging is superb and matched by splendid choreography that sees the ensemble impressively negotiate desks, photocopiers and office files with some well-timed moves. The brilliance of this however, did leave me disappointed with the scenes featuring the three leading ladies. Their side-stepping, toe-tapping dance routines were somewhat lack-lustre. I must admit I did expect more pazazz from former Popstar and Strictly Come Dancing Finalist, Louise Rednapp. However, not known first and foremost as an Actress, Louise did give a good performance, as did her two right-hand women. It’s just, at times I felt the three didn’t seem to gel as much as I wanted them to, particularly in the ‘roof scene’ where the characters bond over a ‘smoke’. (editor’s note – this is the reviewer’s opinion)
Stephanie Chandos as Doralee gives the Southern American accent and the body language Dolly Parton self-parodied in the cult film on which the musical is based, a mighty good shot. I feel trying to sing in an accent not your own is tough and can take the shine from a voice; and what a voice to live up to. In one song, Doralee calls herself a ‘Backwoods Barbie’, but goes on to explain “I’ve always been misunderstood, Because of how I look. Don’t judge me by the cover. Cause I’m a real good book.” Genius.
Vivian Panka as third ‘musketeer’ Judy Bernly has a cracking voice and her powerful solo number, ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ certainly showcases this, though it did feel a little longer than necessary.
The first half seemed to drag its feet but following the interval, the pace picked up and I felt myself becoming more invested in the story; rooting for the ladies to reform their office and make a win for women’s rights (whilst holding their boss captive in his own home.)
The tongue-in-cheek kidnapping story worked on stage, with Hart being strung up in more ways than one. All I’m saying is ‘bondage gear and chandelier’.
What made this production stand out, or should I say, who made this production stand out (alongside aforementioned Needham) is Julia J Nagle – playing Roz, the sexually-repressed Assistant to Needham’s ‘Hart’. The song ‘Heart to Hart’ sees her fantasise about her boss (stripping down to her stockings) in a particularly hilarious and not so raunchy performance! The Hart / Roz duo did it for me.
Whilst 9 to 5 The Musical could be described as light-hearted, bubble-gum fun, it does raise the question as to whether in this modern day and age we should be laughing at workplace leering? However, there’s certainly a lot of love behind this production as well as a wealth of talent. Carry-on style comedy isn’t for everyone but if it is, this one could be right up your street.
The Alhambra opened in 1914, seats 1,400 people and has remained an iconic venue, attracting the very best in star names and live entertainment to the city of Bradford. The staff are friendly and helpful, always happy to help and chat about the shows.
Rating: 3 out of 5
9 to 5 The Musical is at the Bradford Alhambra until 11 September. Tickets cost £24-£45.
Find out more at https://www.bradford-theatres.co.uk/venues/the-alhambra-theatre
The Musical is set to tour until March 2022. Find out all the UK tour dates at https://9to5themusical.co.uk/tour/.