9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL by Dolly Parton (Music) and Patricia Resnick (Lyrics and Book)
Oxford Operatic Society (OXOPS)
New Theatre Oxford, George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AG
29 May-2 June 2018
9 to 5 The Musical is the stage version of the 1980 film that marked the movie debut of country music star Dolly Parton.
Set in 1979, it tells the story of three downtrodden female office workers who decide to take revenge on their horrible boss (repeatedly described as a 'sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot'). Owing to a bizarre series of events, they end up kidnapping him and holding him prisoner while they gather evidence of his embezzlement of company funds. It also gives them the chance to run the company the way they want and becomes something of a manifesto for feminism-lite.
Director Nicky Robinson was well served by her four principals (Frankie Alexandra as wannabee manager Violet Newstead, Nicola Blake as office newcomer Judy Bernly, Saffi Needham as blonde bombshell Doralee Rhodes and Dave Crewe as boss-from-hell Franklin Hart Jr.). The storyline of the three very different women coming together to face down a common enemy draws on archetypal, mythical stories as old as the hills. This is a revenge fantasy taken to farcical limits with a happy ending, with the villain, ironically given the political message underlying the show, despatched by his male boss.
There were some lovely performances from the supporting roles too. Nicola Jones as Roz, Hart's devoted PA gave a storming comic-tragic rendition of '5 to 9' in which we learned of her unrequited love for Hart. Guy Grimsley earned a thumbs-up too for his portrayal as Joe, the rather too good to be true younger man who pursues, and eventually wins, the love of Violet. Alex Williams gave, I thought, an interesting, nuanced version of Dick Bernly, Judy's philandering ex-husband. Although a 'baddie' for his adulterous behaviour, Alex brought a charm to the role that helped us understand how he was able pick up young women, despite being a louse.
With a plot such as this, not the strongest ever, the heavy lifting in the show falls on the song and dance numbers, and here OXOPS came into their own. With strong vocal performances from the principals and chorus alike, musical director Chris Payne deserves praise. Choreographer Amanda Isard showed her talents best in the three dream sequences where Violet, Judy and Doralee envisage the various ways in which they'd like to do away with Hart. The other dance sequence which drew my admiration was the opening scene of the show depicting that daily commute.
There was no credit in the programme for set design, but whoever he or she was, the set designer deserves mention. We certainly got the feeling of a large, faceless corporation building with a yellow and silver colour theme, and I particularly liked the 'fold out and tuck it away again' scenery sets for Hart's office and the ladies bathroom.
This was a big production with multiple scene changes, all of which were accomplished smoothly and quickly, so all credit to the cast and to stage manager Phil Rumsby and his team. There was only one slight hiccup on the evening I went. Dave Crewe (Hart) took a tumble off the swivel chair on which he was being enthusiastically wheeled across stage, as he reached the wings. It gave us all a chuckle!
A review wouldn't be a review without a couple of niggles, so here goes. Several times, the action took place way upstage. Prime culprit was Hart's office, which left a vast amount of empty stage between us and them with nothing going on there.
There was also the use of 'shadow dancers'. From the director: 'But I wanted to explore the reasons WHY the girls do what they do – the thought processes, emotions and feelings they go through that influence their actions. We have therefore added a 'Shadow' double for Violet, Judy, Doralee and Hart – a character that portrays, through dance, some of these inner thoughts and feelings, giving us a deeper insight into the motivations behind their actions.' A nice idea in theory, but in practice it failed to achieve its goal. In fact, the shadow dancers often acted as a distraction, once or twice physically blocking the real characters, while adding little to our understanding. It also begs the question – inner feelings and motivations: isn't this what the actors are supposed to portray? Also 9 to 5 the Musical doesn't have a huge amount of subtext. It's pretty much 'on the nose', so those inner motivations are spelled out for us anyway.
9 to 5 The Musical has plenty of great musical numbers and OXOPS did justice to them. This talented cast and crew certainly pleased the audience on the evening I saw them, so well done to all.
Photo credits: Simon Vail
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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