Over the past decade or so there has been a glut of well loved films transferred from the screen to the stage - some faring better than others. The 1980 movie 9 To 5 starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin was an enjoyable piece of escapism but on the surface wouldn’t appear to be a natural choice to adapt into musical theatre. The story centres in the male dominated offices of Consolidated Industries with our three main protagonists Judy, Violet and Doralee having to contend with the workplaces rife sexism and in particular with the chauvinistic and leching CEO Franklin J Hart.
Although office politics and gender inequality don’t sound like the natural ingredients for a feel good musical comedy 9 To 5: The Musical manages to be enjoyably light and frivolous throughout but is also underpinned with a positive message about women’s role in the work place. The play centres on timid new employee Judy Bernley - who has just split from her cheating husband Dick, the ditzy but spunky Doralee and the sharp as whip senior office worker Violet. The three women have to cope with different aspects of working in such a chauvinistic environment; Doralee has to fight off the unsubtle advances of the CEO, Violet has to watch while inferior male colleagues get promoted over her and Judy has to deal with verbal bullying from her male colleagues. Events conspire to bring the three women together and through some unexpected circumstances they end up kidnapping their slimey boss Franklin J Hart and taking over the running of the office.
My admittedly low expectations for the show were quickly dispelled by the show’s sharp funny script and the production’s fast paced staging plus a cleverly designed office set. What makes the show so enjoyable though is the uniformly strong cast, who are clearly having a lot of fun playing their parts. The characters are fairly broadly drawn but everyone involved brings depth and real energy to their roles. Jackie Clunes in particular is brilliant as Violet the over-looked but clearly smartest person in the office, the actress manages to bring a real gutsiness but vulnerability to the role so that you route for her to get the promotion she is clearly owed. Amy Lennox plays Doralee - originally played by Dolly Parton in the original film - and manages to capture the essence of Ms Parton but also somehow to make the part entirely her own. Natalie Casey brings a nice comic touch as the unworldly wise Judy and her gradual transformation from a shy nervous newbie to someone who is unafraid to stand up for herself is satisfying to watch.
At times the real Dolly herself appears on a screen above the stage narrating certain parts of the plot and what could have been an annoying gimmick actually works well with the shows enjoyable breezy tone. The show ends with the audience on its feet clapping along to the title song and I left the theatre smiling after a genuine feel good gem of a show.