‘9 to 5 The Musical’ bursting onto Oxford’s New Theatre stage was nothing short of life-affirming, a glorious riot of colour, characters, comedy, song, dance and hope.
I’d had no pre-conceptions. It sounded cheerful, that was enough, but I was expecting something slightly dated and cheesy. After all, the film was written in the 70s and the musical in 2009, and we’ve moved on since then! Or have we?
“it was just what the doctor ordered for a grey, bleak January”
But, it was just what the doctor ordered for a grey, bleak January during a pandemic – reason to laugh, tap your feet and give a standing ovation at the end of a brilliant evening out, which let’s face it is hard to come by these days.
The casting was inspired. After all who can replace Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda who all starred in the original film, Dolly writing all the music and lyrics? Claire Sweeney for a start who played Violet Newstead, a widow with four kids working at the company Consolidated for 12 years who hits a very thick glass ceiling.
Her boss Franklin Hart Jr treats her like a secretary and gives her promotion to a less able man. She wants revenge.
So too does Doralee Rhodes, the Dolly Parton character played so naturally by Stephanie Chandos, who has to rebuff Hart’s inappropriate advances on a daily basis, only to discover he’s told everyone in the office they’re having an affair, when she’s happily married.
Judy Bernly (Vivian Panka) is also a woman scorned, after Hart docks her wages on a whim. She’s landed her first job as a secretary after her husband ran off with a younger woman.
“we are swept along with the sheer joy of experiencing something so uplifting, heartfelt and fun”
And as the trio join forces, Hart’s chances of coming out of it unscathed diminish with every joyful second.
Hart himself (played so seamlessly by Sean Needham) rather steals the show with his comedic timing, unashamedly bad behaviour and hilarious songs and graphic actions. An endearing mysogenist if there is such a thing.
Indeed the whole cast really gels, uniting them further. Let’s hope that, as with sexism in the workplace, soon their diversity won’t be so remarkable. Because there is a line in the show – that in 10 years time perhaps men and women will earn the same pay – that shows that we aren’t there yet.
Dolly Parton narrates virtually throughout, her innate sense of humour as intact now as ever, and as the uplifting dancers and singers take us through her impressive and upbeat musical repertoire and the story-line rolls to a close, we are swept along with the sheer joy of experiencing something so uplifting, heartfelt and fun.
Brilliant to the very last note.
9 to 5 The Musical is at Oxford’s New Theatre until Saturday January 22. Book here https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/9-to-5-the-musical/new-theatre-oxford/