The beloved 1980 film 9 to 5, starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, was a groundbreaking moment in feminist cinema with a message of female empowerment and solidarity. Sadly, the notion that women have the right to work free from harassment and with equal pay is not as antiquated as hoped given the 40-year-old source material.
Parton created the musical a decade ago for Broadway with the film’s screenwriter Patricia Resnick, writing new music and lyrics for the company to belt out alongside the title number. This is no Dolly Parton jukebox musical; only the eponymous toe-tapper and ‘Backwoods Barbie’ feature from the superstar’s back catalogue. Parton herself features via video to lead the title tune and to give a little plot exposition (or Doll-splain) to those who haven’t seen the film.
The story centres on three office workers – widow Violet (Laura Tyrer understudying Louise Redknapp), newly separated Judy (Amber Davies) and Doralee (Georgina Castle) -who long to overpower their chauvinistic and deceitful boss, Franklin Hart Jr (Sean Needham). The show is set in the same 1980s era as the film and the sexist comments, innuendoes and crass behaviour of the man in charge may be familiar to anyone who has worked in the corporate world pre-#MeToo. The sexist behaviour is played for laughs, and under director Jeff Calhoun the show feels a little like misdirected nostalgia, rather than a social commentary.
The show looks great and a partly digital set by Tom Rogers and video designer Nina Dunn adds to the slick, colourful look. The gaudy costumes are hilarious and the wigs and hair definitely chime with the period setting – big hair was born in the 1980s and you can almost smell the hairspray from the stalls!
The show has a flimsy narrative, with needless contrivances and unnecessary subplots, but is saved by the score and performances. Parton’s anthems of female empowerment have the audience whooping along in delight and there’s not a dud in the large ensemble cast. Some may be drawn to the show to see if Love Island winner Amber Davies was purely stunt casting, but Davies’ turn as Judy is wholehearted and her professional training shines through in her solo turns. Audience members who are initially disappointed by the absence of Louise Redknapp are instantly won over by Tryer, who gives the performance of the night. Castle has the largest shoes (and cups) to fill as Doralee, played by Parton herself in the original film but handles herself beautifully, treading the line between ditsy dote and astute businesswoman with ease.
9 to 5 is fun (if lurid) and silly, but its feminist message feels a little light when compared to the film. It’s still an entertaining show that’s worth a watch, although be warned that the bawdy humour warrants a 12+ age rating.