9 to 5 seems like the perfect idea for a movie turned musical, a score by Dolly Parton, the book written by the original screenwriter of the film and a zippy female empowerment caper story guaranteed to get audiences cheering along. However when the show opened on Broadway it received middling reviews and played to half empty audiences before closing after a mere 6 months.
With this new UK production (which is not so much new as a slightly altered version of the US tour with the same set) they had the chance to sort out the problems that plagued a show that is dying to break out, sadly the problems are more noticeable than ever.
9 to 5 of course tells the story of three very different women who are all working as secretaries for the egotistical sexist boss Franklin Hart (Ben Richards) in 1979. Violet (Jackie Clune) is a widow raising her son and fed up of watching the men of the company get promoted before her, Doralee (Amy Lennox) just wants people to look past the big hair and make-up and see her heart and brain, and Judy (Natalie Casey) is recently divorced and entering the work place for the first time. After a series of mishaps the women kidnap Hart and start to change their work environment whilst finding their strength and independence along the way.
The problem with the show is that it never fully decides what it wants to be, as a comedy the jokes are few and far between and as a female empowerment show it does not characterise the women enough to really make you root for them. The show with its bright (and very busy) sets and retro costumes seems to just plod along and is never really given the chance to hit the highs it so desperately needs to do
Whilst the original film balanced a line of comedy and social commentary the latter has been replaced with attempts at slap stick and sight gags, sadly neither are fully realised. The set is a distraction in itself with pieces moving on and off the stage every few minutes in some lengthy (and rather clumsy) transitions.
Parton has written some legendary songs in the past but here presents a mediocre score that fails to elevate the action and sadly sometimes stops it in its tracks. A few songs shine (9 to 5, Backwards Barbie, Shine Like the Sun and Get Out and Stay Out) but the rest whilst pleasant enough are instantly forgettable, however the musicians in the pit sound wonderful. Direction and Choreography by Jeff Calhoun who did some fantastic work on Bonnie and Clyde and Newsies on Broadway only rarely shows flashes of what the show could really be.
Casting on the show is a mixed bag, Jackie Clune delivers a great performance as Violet but is very clearly inspired by Alison Janney who originated the role on Broadway. Amy Lennox in the role Parton played in the film scores big with a stunning voice and bouncy personality, and Bonnie Langford and Ben Richards have a ball in their roles as Roz and Hart. The stumbling point is Natalie Casey as the shy and nervous Judy. Casey lacks any innocence to convince in the role and instead resorts to deepening her voice and over selling her comedy moments to get the laughs. Her big song Get Out and Stay Out (a stand out in the show) is not sung by her but overacted complete with crying and anger totally missing the point of what the song is about. When she sings the last powerful chorus of the song she shows exactly what she can do, but the rest of the song was a failure. Casey has been miscast before (The Wedding Singer) but it would be nice to see this charming comedy performer land a role that truly suits her so she can enjoy the stage success of her TV co star Sheridan Smith
The audience (largely made up of groups of women) seemed to enjoy the show but for me it was a demonstration in mediocre. Sure it has some great moments (a scene in the Hospital is particularly funny) and the cast work hard to give you a good night, but underneath all the make-up and hair a heart is faintly beating desperately wanting to be heard, sadly in this production something is lost from screen to stage.
It’s pleasant enough but falls short of creating something new out of an established brand. Unlike Legally Blonde or Sister Act it sticks closely to the film, it would have been nice to see a new take on a familiar story, as it stands 9 to 5 needs to spend a bit more time in the office before it can really become the musical it deserves to be.