Wednesday, 18 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: 9 To 5 - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

Inspired by the iconic '80's movie, the 2008 musical version features an Oscar, Tony and Grammy award nominated score by the Queen of country music, Dolly Parton, and with a book by the original movie’s screenwriter, Patricia Resnick. The show hits Manchester after a successful run in the West End with some of the original cast transferring to the tour (notably not Brian Conley and Bonnie Langford). The auditorium was buzzing with excited Dolly fans and musical lovers waiting to be entertained and filled with escapism by toe-tapping and refreshing show tunes whose central theme is overcoming female inequality. The film was mostly memorable for its comedy and of course for featuring the famous 9 To 5 title song.

The story is of three secretaries: Violet ( the senior office manager who is constantly overlooked for promotion), Doralee, the boss’ secretary who everyone is led to believe is sleeping with their egotistical, sexist and arrogant pig of a boss, and the new girl Judy, who has to work for the first time because her husband, Dick, ran off with his secretary. In an unlikely scenario, they plot to kidnap and hold hostage their gruesome sex-pest boss in his own home whilst they restructure the company and reform the workplace for the better for the women who work there. Sounds crazy? It is hugely funny, not least because of the girls’ exploits and farcical, almost slapstick ways in which they overcome the most insurmountable of situations. This is where it is famous for being a ‘Girl Power’ show.

However, the plot is so unlikely and unbelievable that the theme becomes watered down. The heroines of the piece, working to defeat sexual politics of the '80s, of course triumph in the end (or we wouldn’t have a show) are played by Louise Redknapp as Violet who gave a competent but understated performance and despite being an accomplished performer straight from the West End did not hit the mark for me as she lacked energy and anger at not being promoted. As the chief protagonist I should have been rallying for her but she didn’t give enough for me to feel for her. Georgina Castle’s Doralee (Parton in the film) hit the mark with a sassy and misunderstood ‘Backwoods Barbie’ with control and a beautiful voice. Amber Davies’ Judy was a standout and the 2017 Love Island winner proved that she is no flash-in-the-pan with a dynamite belt which gave us the vocally stunning ‘ Get Out And Stay Out’ which the audience loved. All three girls had excellent voices and sang beautifully together.

The comedy of the evening was firmly placed in the capable hands of Sean Needham’s despicable boss, Hart and his lovelorn assistant Roz Keith played with class, hilarity and extreme flexibility by Lucinda Lawrence. They got most of the laughs and their 'Hart To Hart' number was outstanding. Violet’s love interest, Junior accountant Joe was in the hands of Christopher Jordan Marshall who had a lovely voice.

The entire ensemble, in their '80's costumes and sharp, slick movement really moved the pace and took entire control of swift and effective scene changes which really added to the whole show. They all played minor roles within the story and interacted sharply. I really loved the slow motion, hospital sequences as the action slowed down to contrast the melodrama when Violet thought the dead man on the trolley was her boss.

The sound and mic levels were first class, every sound, every harmony were just perfect. Musical direction by Simone Manfredini across the whole show was impeccable. One of my favourite songs of the night was 'Change It' with the girls and ensemble, stunningly sang. The set was a collection of interchangeable trolleys for the huge office, the boss’s office, a rooftop and even Hart’s bedroom complete with sex dungeon cupboard and flies for when he was strung up!

The tour version has some script edits and some topical, pointed barbs at politicians and corruptions when discussing the office politics which the audience readily picked up on, appreciatively. There is a huge song edit where the ballet of the girls’ acting out killing Hart as fantasies has been completely removed and replaced by the unmemorable ‘Hey Boss’ set on the office roof as they get high on a joint, plotting Mr Hart’s much deserved demise. I much preferred the original version as it was fun, allowing each female protagonist to explore aspects of their personalities but in the new version they are gesticulating and giving the bird and two fingered salute to the billboard hoarding of their boss whilst singing about him. This didn’t look or feel 1980s.

Dolly herself is in the show (of course, how could she not be?) via a video link on the clock on stage. She narrates the opening sequence in her inimitable style to introduce the characters and the final sequence has her leading the finale concluding the ‘what happened next’?

The audience in Manchester absolutely loved the show and went wild, leaping to their feet for a standing ovation, singing enthusiastically to the '9 To 5' title song. It was an excellent production of a feel-good, escapist show which had the audience singing all the way out of the theatre and down Oxford Road.

Reviewer - Kathryn Gorton
on - 17/9/19

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