Thursday, September 28

9 to 5 The Musical – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Dolly Parton’s instantly recognisable hit “9 To 5” became the signature anthem behind the film of the same name, which kicked off the 1980s with a huge dose of female empowerment.  The film’s legendary cast (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Parton herself) made the film an instant classic still beloved today, and as is often the way these days, went on to inspire a stage musical.  Though it was short-lived on Broadway, running just a few months in 2009, it has found a larger audience here in the UK, with a year-long West End run (curtailed by Covid) and two successful national tours.  The uplifting and empowering musical is the latest choice for the long-running BMOS group based in Birmingham.  Incredibly this is their 166th production in a history spanning nearly 140 years as a group, and once again they’ve done a great job.

‘9 To 5’ takes us back to the sexism of 1970s America, where the office staff of Consolidated are growing tired of the way they’re treated by sleazeball boss Franklin Hart Jr (played by James Gordanifar).  Frustrated supervisor Violet (Michelle Worthington), objectified secretary Doralee (Jo Smith) and new starter Judy (Rachel Richards) band together and jokingly come up with ways to get rid of Hart so they could run things their own way.  When a misunderstanding leads to the women kidnapping Hart and keeping him tied up in his house, the office becomes theirs to run in secret, and they start to discover their true potential and learn what they might be able to achieve in their lives without obstacles standing in their way.  That is, unless busybody Roz Keith (Beth Hunt), secretly in love with Hart herself, uncovers the truth first.

Patricia Resnick’s book (based on the film’s screenplay by Resnick and Colin Higgins) puts its women front and centre, giving full journeys for each of the characters and ensuring the audience root for them at all times.  The blatant sexism, objectification and overall poor treatment of the women by Hart is deployed brilliantly through Resnick’s writing and reminds us just how much women have struggled for equality in the workplace, a battle still far from over.  Warmly funny but with a satirical bite, we’re taken on a fun journey with a deeper meaning behind it, as all good theatre should be.  It does tiptoe a bit too far into farce at times, even more so now it’s a musical where reality becomes a secondary priority, but it keeps its pace well and constantly engages.  Parton’s music (and lyrics) retains her trademark country edge but blends it well with a Broadway style.  The songs could be perhaps a tad more memorable, but there’s plenty here to enjoy, with “Change It” and “Shine Like The Sun” standing out, alongside the belting eleven-o-clock number “Get Out And Stay Out”, and of course the title song.  The orchestra of 12 also sounds great, led by music directors Phil Johnson and David Easto.

Director Stephen Duckham delivers a confident and assured production here, filling the Alexandra stage well and really making the show feel like a professional show.  The ensemble also works incredibly hard, and give perhaps one of the most polished ensemble performances seen in regional theatre in recent months (including professional tours).  They really do gel brilliantly together and have excellent timing, delivering Aaron Gibson’s choreography with great energy.  Leading the show, all three actresses give fantastic turns.  Michelle Worthington is brilliantly sharp and acerbic, giving her violet plenty of bite and sass.  Jo Smith stays exactly the right side of caricature and ensures her Doralee remains likeable, while also not just giving a Dolly Parton impersonation and making the character her own.  And Rachel Richards is an absolute knockout as Judy, selling the vulnerability and “tries too hard” eagerness, while also sounding fantastic, somehow managing to out-Elphaba the Broadway role-originator Stephanie J Block and adding her own closing riffs to “Get Out And Stay Out” which nearly brought the roof down.  Finally, James Gordanifar earns particular praise for a wonderfully sleazy performance as Hart, practically dripping with oily slime and appearing to love every minute of it.

BMOS have delivered a strong and entertaining production that feels not far off professional-level and should be very proud of themselves.  A few iffy accents and wobbly set pieces aside (all forgivable), ‘9 To 5’ earns its place on their esteemed production CV, and we look forward to seeing what they have in store for us next.

‘9 to 5’ runs at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 17th June 2023.

Performance runtime 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

Reviewer: Rob Bartley

Reviewed: 14th June 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.