Friday, 15 February 2013

9 to 5 The Musical - review

Written by: Elodie Vidal (@ElodieVidal)

Richmond Theatre, London

9 to 5 has tremendous potential. As a Broadway musical, it promises high-energy musical numbers and a charismatic cast; as a piece with the score written by Dolly Parton, it promises feisty music; finally, as an adaptation from a 1980’s comedy film, it promises humorous nostalgia. In the end however, the version of the show offered in the UK tour is so stripped down that all this potential finds itself diluted beyond recognition.

Photo: Simon Annand
It all starts with Dolly, of course. She is the compensation UK audience’s get for the axed musical numbers and various modifications to the original show. She appears in footage projected above the stage, to take the audience through the main developments of the story. Her contributions might give the show celebrity appeal, but they also have the effect of preventing involvement with the story. It is difficult to believe in characters that so obviously take cues from the pre-recorded voice of a famous singer who, as far as the plot goes, has nothing to do with the situation at hand. But the use of Dolly Parton’s image is not alone in keeping the audience at bay.

The cast itself does not appear involved in the proceedings. Although their skill is evident in the technically perfect dance routines and potent vocal performances, none of them seems interested in distinguishing themselves. Gemma Maclean allows Judy’s meekness to downplay her presence. Her solo, Get Out and Stay Out, although a success in terms of vocals comes across as so perfunctory that the gesture of empowerment it represents feels uncertain. Amy Lennox, in her performance as the charmingly southern Doralee, chooses to remain nothing more than a younger Dolly Parton. If Jackie Clune stands out among her co-stars, it’s because she lets Violet’s authority carry her.

It therefore comes as a complete surprise when secondary character Roz draws all eyes on her. Bonnie Langford manifests magnetic stage presence and the makings of a true triple threat. No audience member, male or female, is likely to forget her number Heart to Hart, in which she purrs her love for her unworthy boss (Mark Moraghan), her suspenders-clad legs in the air. Unfortunately, her character’s appearances being limited, her excellent performance only manages to leave the audience hungry for more.

What’s more, in this shorter format, the story’s 80s setting comes with an anachronism that is difficult to ignore. In particular, the central theme of sexism being represented through overtly obscene gestures and extreme insults such as “typewriter with tits”, the protagonists’ struggle for equality feels too dated to be relevant. The audience ends up watching the action from the outside.

To sum up, in stripping 9 to 5 down for its UK tour, its producing team took away its means to entertain, leaving it only able to tease. With its in-your-face celebrity appeal, its stars that rebuke from shining too bright, and its outdated message, it only manages to pose as the Broadway musical it once was.

This production runs until 16 February 2013. 

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