Tuesday, November 29

9 to 5: The Musical – Liverpool Empire

In 2009, nearly 30 years after the film’s release, 9 to 5 made its debut as a Broadway Musical with new songs written by Dolly Parton.  It then made its way over to the West-End where it premiered in February 2019.  Since its UK premiere, 9 to 5 The Musical, has been seen by over half a million people at over 450 performances. This is its second national UK tour.

I can remember watching the film 9 to 5 in the early 1980’s starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton and being blown away by it; straight from the start the music was gripping and of course the theme of feminism, equality and women’s rights was spot on. It was Dolly Parton’s acting debut, and she was fabulous as secretary to the story’s antagonist, exploitative boss.

In a nutshell, the story is about three heroines stuck in a chauvinist workplace, who kidnap their misogynistic boss which ends with a feel-good finale when the three ladies end up running the company; it is a riotous escape from reality inspired by the cult film.  It is full of gloriously over-the-top 80’s fashion and is an all-out celebration of female empowerment.

The show opened with a video from Dolly broadcast from the alarm clock of the 9 to 5 logo; although we could only see her head and shoulders, it felt as though she was on stage; she is so warm and personable it felt as though she was really there. The opening scenes were accompanied by the infamous 9 to 5 catchy melody, the theme song of the 1980 film and the stage was set as an office in a large American company.

2020 Cast

Singer and Strictly celeb Louise Redknapp reprised her role as Violet, (Office Manager), whilst Vivian Panka played Judy (new employee), Stephanie Chandos played Doralee (secretary) and Sean Needham played Franklin Hart Jr., (Company CEO).  Chandos is excellent as secretary, Doralee (Parton’s part in the film) and has Parton’s accent and mannerisms down to a tee. Needham is also first-rate as the sexist, egotistical, male chauvinist CEO, Franklin Hart Jr.

The three leading ladies sang throughout the show; Vivian Panka’s voice was particularly powerful whilst at times Louise Redknapp’s when she was singing with other cast members wasn’t, and often it was difficult to hear her at all.  This was evident when she sang a duet of “Let Love Grow” with love interest Russell Dickson as Joe, Trainee Accountant in the story.

I had trouble at times catching what cast members were saying particularly Redknapp’s; this may have been due to the American accent needed for the part but it was annoying and I could tell other audience members were missing some of the jokes and repartee.

Redknapp performed a solo song and dance routine singing “One of the Boys” with the male ensemble, which was adequate, but I felt as though it had been included due to her Strictly TV appearance some time ago.

Sexual innuendo was a big part of the script and scenes where Franklin Hart Jr is handcuffed, dressed in a black and red S & M outfit and trussed up to the ceiling were exceptionally funny.  As the curtain closed for the interval, he was left swinging from the ceiling and as it re-opened for Act 2 he was still there. 

There was much made of smoking pot and being stoned in various scenes which reflects the era the original film was produced, and one member of the office staff was a humorous alcoholic/drunk who became a reformed character at the end of the show.

There was clever use of backdrops, mostly of US skylines and the sets concentrated mainly on the company Head Office, Hart Jr’s private office and his bedroom at his home.  The stage was lit on all sides, from floor to ceiling with different coloured lit-up shelving which changed colour from scene to scene culminating in a multi-coloured display during the final scenes so that they matched the brightly coloured furniture and cast member’s outfits on stage.

The male and female ensemble gave an energetic accompaniment to leading cast members and for lovers of Dolly Parton, her songs and the movie, there is nothing too much to disappoint.

The show has all the ingredients to make it a success, music, humour, romance, a feel-good story where good overcomes wrong-doing and yet I didn’t leave the theatre inspired or on a high as I feel I should have done; there is something not quite there with the production, it didn’t have that sparkle or special ingredient which makes a show an outstanding one.

Music and Lyrics, Dolly Parton, Book, Patricia Resnick, Director, Jeff Calhoun, Choreographer, Lisa Stevens and Designer, Tom Rogers.

The age recommendation for the show is 12+ as the production contains comic sexual references, light drug use and the occasional swear words.

The show runs at Liverpool Empire until the 6th November 2021. https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/9-to-5-the-musical/liverpool-empire/

Reviewer: Anne Pritchard

Reviewed: 2nd November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★

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