State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne – until 18 September 2022
Bubbly, bold and brassy, 9 to 5 the Musical is a well-timed wallop of feel-good fare. Proving an ideal fit for a cinema-to-stage adaptation, hit 1980 movie 9 to 5 provides three leading ladies for the price of one, not to mention the scope, fully realised, for an all-singing, all-dancing set of stenographers and executives. Hailing from Broadway in 2009, 9 to 5 the Musical soared to new life in a restaged production for London’s West End in 2019, its hearty feminist power amplified again for a new generation.
Marketing material trumpets “Dolly Parton presents…” and so Dolly does, crisply projected on an overhead screen as the radiant emcee, even singing snippets of her hit title song, ‘9 to 5’. In her only Broadway musical, Parton’s music and lyrics have a joyful accessibility, their immediacy boosted by her gift for melody and storytelling. Writing for her movie counterpart Doralee, ‘Backwoods Barbie’ is a prime example of Parton’s musical voice.
Movie screenwriter Patricia Resnick adapts her own screenplay for the stage, her story and characters needing minimal tweaking for musical theatre. Resnick highlights the further progress that is still needed to achieve true parity in the workplace. Rampantly sexist boss Franklin Hart Jnr is cringingly repugnant in the sheer confidence of his misogyny, the audience only barely coping with his obnoxious behaviour with the knowledge that he will be served his just desserts in plenty of time for the final curtain.
9 to 5 the Musical looks terrific on the State Theatre stage, Tom Rogers’ glossy design and Howard Hudson’s lighting filling the space with abundant colour. Rogers tracks the three heroines’ growth through their embrace of personal expression via their clothing. The burgeoning joy that blossoms in the office in Hart’s absence is vividly signified by blasts of neon, a colour palette that will be well remembered by children of the 1980s.
Jeff Calhoun directs the show with unflagging pace and infectious energy, and this vivacious spirit is expertly re-created locally by associate director Karen Johnson Mortimer. The choreography of Lisa Stevens is deceptively simple, looking all the more dazzling for the relentless outpouring of energy from the full ensemble.
Musical director James Simpson infuses the music with Parton’s love of entertaining, spreading a clear sense of joy from musicians and singers alike.
This Australian premiere season is blessed with a generously starry cast, each of whom are working at their peak at this stage of the tour. Long established as a choice comedic actress, Marina Prior revels in the plum role of visionary Violet. While the show centres upon what is essentially an extended revenge fantasy, Prior’s commitment to Violet’s cause grounds the show in as strong a semblance of reality as can possibly be mustered. With act two only just underway, Prior stops the show in fabulous fashion with ‘One of the Boys’.
As meek and mousy newcomer Judy, Casey Donovan plays against type for almost the whole show, finally unleashing her trademark powerhouse belt to bring the house down in act two as Judy stands up for herself in 11 o’clock power ballad “Get Out and Stay Out.” Donovan’s sensational rendition of this stirring song deservedly brought the opening night audience to their feet for an extended ovation.
While not currently as well known as her co-stars, Erin Clare memorably puts herself on the musical theatre map with a terrific performance as Doralee. In sterling voice, Clare not only sings up a storm but also colours the glamorous character with real heart.
Almost too believable as Hart, Eddie Perfect gamely throws himself wholeheartedly into the repulsive role, providing a pure villain for the women to justifiably rail against. Perfect also proves a very good sport, spending much time suspended overhead in kinky gear as part of Hart’s extended punishment.
International treasure Caroline O’Connor works with characteristically consummate skill to wring every possible laugh from devilishly devoted personal assistant Roz. O’Connor goes to town when Roz cuts loose in act one charmer “Heart to Hart,” delighting again in act two as Roz returns from French school a new woman.
Ethan Jones brings a wonderfully old-fashioned sense of the matinee idol to Violet’s love interest Joe. Sarah Krndija scores ready laughs as local lush Margaret. Warmly likeable performer Joshua Mulheran ensures that Judy’s ex Dick is not too black-hearted a sleaze. Mia Dabkowski-Chandler shows herself as ready for a breakout starring role in her supremely confident delivery as Kathy.
The perfect antidote to 2020s doom scrolling, 9 to 5 the Musical is escapist entertainment at its glossiest, the quality of the local production and cast elevating the show above its existing standard.
9 to 5 the Musical plays at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 18 September 2022. For tickets, click here.
9 to 5 the Musical plays at Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre from 8 October 2022. For tickets, click here.
Photos: David Hooley