A triumph of presentation over content this cheery musicalization of the popular 1980’s film of the same name turns out to be a much more delightful entertainment than it deserves to be, thanks mainly to some terrific performances from its topline cast.
The writer of the book and lyrics, Patricia Resnick, has drawn her characters with a broad brush, providing a series of unlikely events which serve the ethic of the story, but don’t really stand up to examination.
Taking this as his cue, Jeff Calhoun’s direction is similarly broad, sometimes dubious, requiring his cast to underline the many double entendre’s with crotch-grabbing and bumps to make sure the audience get the joke.
Dolly Parton has gifted the production with a parcel of attractive songs, though with the exception of the title song, none is particularly memorable, but they do keep the show bubbling along, and serve the storyline well.
They also provide choreographer, Lisa Stevens, with plenty of inspiration to keep her hardworking dancers on their toes as they double as stylish scene changers and razzle dazzle eye-candy.
The female empowerment storyline follows the adventures of three female employees of Consolidated Industries who kidnap their lecherous boss, and imprison him in his own home, while they take over the running of the business.
As one of the trio of women, Marina Prior draws on her considerable musical theatre experience to invest her character, Violet Newstead, with warmth and dignity. She sings and dances like the star she is, and is no slouch when it comes to nailing the comedy.
Violet Newstead is the office supervisor who’s upset because once again she’s been passed over for promotion by her lecherous boss, Franklin Hart Jnr in favour of a man she’s trained.
Although she’s been successful in small feature roles in several musicals previously, Casey Donovan is a real surprise packet as the newbie, Judy Bernly, struggling in her first job since the break-up of her marriage to Dick (cue for dick jokes) who Violet takes under her wing.
Like her character, Donovan has learned her lessons well, creating a warm-hearted, huggable character while charting Violet’s pathway from struggling novice to strong, confident individual, then finally bringing the house down with her powerful rendition of Get Out and Stay Out.
Equally impressive as the third member of the triumvirate is Erin Clare who plays Doralee Rhodes, a Dolly Parton-ish character, the unwitting target for the lustful attentions of Franklin Hart Jnr, and for office gossip. Clare brings a charming naivety to the role and successfully captures the Partridge twang for her solo Backwoods Barbie.
Perhaps a little young for the role but otherwise practically perfect, Eddie Perfect with his big baritone speaking and singing voice is wonderfully odious as the randy Franklin Hart Jnr. So easy to loathe in his funny, cleverly staged solo, Here for You, Perfect makes it easy for the audience to side with his female employees and their plot to bring him down.
Not to be outdone, the wonderful Caroline O’Connor, in what could have been a throw-away role as Hart’s faithful, if equally unsuspectingly lustful secretary, Roz Keith, pulls out all stops and really does stop the show with her funny, energetic performance of Heart to Hart in which she reveals her secret crush for Franklin Hart Jnr.
Tom Rogers is responsible for the rather wonderful 1980’s costumes, and the bright, mobile setting which incorporates dozens of faux-television screens to allow Howard Hudson’s lighting designs to flood the stage with colour.
His design also incorporates the piece de resistance, a centre stage screen which allows Dolly Parton herself to greet the Sydney audience, introduce the individual characters, even divulge what happens to her characters after the show ends, and sing the title song accompanied by James Simpson’s occasionally too enthusiastic band.
Despite its dodgy sexual politics, 9 to 5 with its show-stopping performances from its all-star cast, its colourful sets and costumes, catchy songs and exuberant dances guarantees an evening of light-hearted, cleverly crafted, highly entertaining musical theatre. You’d be mad to miss it!
9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL
Capitol Theatre, Campbell Sreet, Haymarket (Sydney)
Performance: Saturday 26 February 2022
Season continues to 1 May 2022
Lyric Theatre – QPAC, Cultural Precinct, South Bank (Brisbane)
Season: 22 May – 12 June 2022
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 10 – 31 July 2022
For more information, visit: www.9to5themusical.com.au for details.
Image: The Australian Cast of 9 TO 5 The Musical – photo by David Hooley
Review: Bill Stephens OAM