Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Book by Patricia Resnick
Directed by Niall King
Despite originating over forty years ago with the 1980 film, Patricia Resick’s 2009 musical adaptation of 9 to 5 continues to infuse penetrating and earnest criticisms of the institutional sexism rampant in the career-based world – despite its nature as a farcical screwball comedy featuring plenty of songs from the legendary Dolly Parton. And even after numerous viewings, tours, and endless journeys with Parton’s tunes blazing out of the radio: 9 to 5 still holds itself up as an addictively enjoyable piece of theatre.
Three exploited office workers: one narcissistic and misogynistic ‘old boy’ boss. Violet, Doralee and new start Judy find themselves swept up in a story even Thelma & Louise would be proud of. Tired of their Boss’, Mr Hart, attitude and unwanted advances, the trio concoct a plan to set things right, shake up the status quo, and most importantly – save themselves for the law.
Edinburgh Music Theatre and director Niall King mercifully grasp 9 to 5’s more contemporary rebuttal to the Girl Boss narratives of the nineties and early noughties, Resnick’s story sees the dream scenario become a reality – becoming your own boss and punishing the patriarchal corporate world (maybe leave the S&M and Hogtying for the bedroom though). And while the musicality of it all remains, in no small part down to EMT’s fantastic talent pool, the performance elements of the show shine through. Yes, the singing in areas is outstanding, but so is 9 to 5’s sparkling comedy and poignant moments of passion and enraged spirit.
Nowhere more prevalent than Denise Treanor’s Violet Newstead, always the secretary, never the CEO. Treanor is an all-around powerhouse entertainer, act two “One of the Boys” is an absolute showcase of aptitude and control, but throughout Treanor carries Newstead with an initial and entirely necessary brutality to take any form of authority in a man’s world. One gradually erased as they became more comfortable, without losing humour, personality, or strength. A superb work in character from Treanor under King’s direction which ripples through the show and ignites others to match their level.
We were unaware that EMT’s budget was so expansive that they had managed to rope the one and only Dolly themselves to make an appearance, as the one and only Doralee Rhodes. Like us, it might take a few moments to realise that Monica Fowler, emulating those Parton warbles and vocal leaps, does such a fine job in capturing the essence of the now infamous Parton role, but may not be from the deep South. Beyond looks, the physicality of the performance is enabled through Chanel Turner-Ross’ choreography, with Fowler carrying a room-capturing presence and charm. While Doralee has a most settled home life than her co-star pair, she is dragged down and verbally and emotionally berated by colleagues for her looks and carefree attitude. Still, when fired up, Fowler has a firm and authoritative status which ripples through the theatre.
Balancing the more out-spoken and bouncing Doralee, Sarah-Louise Donnelly brings a bubbling injection of sincerity and naivety to the recently divorced Judy who struggles to find her footing in the world. It’s a slow-building role, paced more in evolution, Donnelly slowly calms the character’s anxious energy into a more forthcoming comedic part, which has one blazing moment of a complete narrative arc come to the finale. Her solo, Get Out and Stay Out is nothing short of Westend quality in control and pitch. Together with musical director Libby Crabtree, Donnelly comprehends the space of Church Hill – a venue which requires a deft balance to avoid blow-out from the orchestra, something Crabtree avoids entirely whilst utilising soft audio cues to offer narrative effects such as percussive gunshots. It ties together into a remarkably lively production which plenty of vim and spirit, the live band injecting as much panache and spirit as the on-stage talent.
Where solo numbers reign triumphant through the production, harmony in ensemble pieces usually finds a fair footing – only on occasion dipping as individual voices excel, struggling to mix when first entering a number comprising three or four performers. This isn’t as true for large numbers with the supporting cast however, who perform exceptional work in belting out the crowd favourites out the doors and down the street – a special mention going to Jill Howie and Sheona Dorrian for bringing additional elements to the tipple-happy Margaret and once-fired, long missed Maria.
Oh, but we’re forgetting someone. Someone who imbues such sultry bravado to the mousey, even tepid role of Hart’s put-upon yet yearning assistant Roz. It’s not a major role, a secondary antagonist of sorts, but Rosie Sugrue owns every god-damned minute on that stage and deserves every whoop, cheer, applause, and phone number which might be tossed their way following a showstopping “Heart to Hart”. It certainly makes a refreshing change from the production’s principal antagonist, a slimeball who can’t help but be played with a twinkle in their eye by Peter Tommassi, who keeps the audience as fans of their performance, who takes everything in his stride and relishes the boos come curtain call.
From office spaces to bedrooms, elevators to black-light-infused graphics, Charlie Johnson-Walker’s decision to form the set as a series of pillars (each with a section of a larger-painted scene on each side) makes for a concise and clever manner of set-piece changes if sometimes a few too many quick-pace changes cause a touch of chaos.
Pour another cup of this ambition for this downright excellent rendition of the hit musical. 9 to 5, with misconceptions, is a production many think you can crack with ease – but is easily over-blown or overplayed. Yet here, EMT do the world of grassroots theatre a remarkable service in stamping a seal of quality to their show, expanding, and bringing additional elements to the now fan-favourite stage show. Do yourself a massive favour and stumble on down to Church Hill Theatre before the run is over, darn tootin’ you’re in for one hell of a terrific night out.
9 to 5 runs at the Church Hill Theatre until April 8th. Tuesday – Saturday at 19.30pm, with a matinee at 14,30pm on Saturday.
Running time – Two hours and thirty minutes with one interval. Suitable for ages 10+
Tickets begin from £20.00 (con. available) and may be obtained here.