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Review of 9 to 5 at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

9 to 5 - The Musical is a 2008 show based on the original 1980 film starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and music legend Dolly Parton, who with this musical writes the music and lyrics expanding its content extremely successfully beyond the main song 9 to 5 itself. However, the question, is this worth your time in 2019? Simple answer, yes. This two-hour feast of colour, tunes and broad characters provides a ridiculously camp and surreal night of entertainment.

The story such as it is (deliberately corny book by Patricia Resnick), revolves around three bold females dealing with the inequality in the workplace, while their lecherous boss seeks a crude conquest of one one of them "girls". It is a fascinating study in fact if you think deeply about how things have taken a long time to change, and not as one character refers, resolved in ten years. However, deep thinking isn't really the point of 9 To 5, even if it attempts to have a message at its core.

In the leads we have Amber Davies as the shy, nervy new girl Judy Bernly, Georgina Castle as the tall, bold Parton character of old, Doralee Rhodes, and Laura Tyrer as sharp-looking, ambitious, but also quite kindly Violet Newstead.

The appearance of Tyrer as Violet, was a slight disappointment in theory, as she was understudying
perhaps the main draw of the show, Louise Redknapp, who I suspect a few had come to see, and personally, I was looking forward to seeing. However, as always with the appearance of an understudy in my experience, you soon forgot who you were meant to be seeing as Tyrer was a magnificent presence. Strong vocally, and a dominating presence of that ambition, tinged with a delightful touch of vulnerability as well.

Castle has the style and look for the role made famous by Parton, and has one of the stronger and true country and western numbers in the show in Backwards Barbie, and Castle performs it superbly. Like all the female characters, they evolve dramatically as the story progresses and the role of Rhodes is no different and Castle brings the airhead original into the strong leader-like final version with total smoothness.

Finally, we have Davies as Judy, new-girl with no office experience who can't even control the paper spilling Xerox machine. Davies is fabulous and shows what a star she is going to become, full of character, and with Get Out and Stay Out, provides the strongest solo of the entire show, leaving the spine-tingling.

Elsewhere, we have entertainer Brian Conley as the truly creepy and sexually predatory boss Franklin Hart Jnr, who delivers his totally politically incorrect songs with style. He gives some truly great comedy moments, although you can't help but feel that at times you are just getting an American version of "entertainer Brian Conley", and to an extent this doesn't matter, however, while the interval moment is a brilliant piece of theatre, I think perhaps we could have been a little more subtle and not had the "puppet" moment.

Finally from the main cast, Lucinda Lawrence gives a scene-stealing role as Hart's very loyal assistance Roz Keith, and her Heart to Hart number is unsurprisingly a huge crowd pleaser and immensely funny as well.

Staging is great, with some big numbers choreographed by Lisa Stevens, and it is impossible not to delight in the ridiculously over the top dancing of the office staff. Scene changes are swift with only a couple of minor issues. It looks good throughout with the colour and lighting looking the part for the eighties setting, although perhaps the spot does need a bit of sharpening up as at times it was a little more distracting than it should have been.

9 to 5 is lightweight fun with a strong message at its core, which perhaps is a little too discarded at times. However, I don't think it cares that it doesn't work the message strongly, and eventually, the audience doesn't either, this is just a tremendous night of frivolous fun, of its time, willing to offend with its rigidity of the humour of the time. I have no idea why at times, but I really loved it, and I suspect you will as well.

Camp, surreal, bizarre, frivolous and fun. What's not to like?

Performance reviewed: Tuesday 24th September 2019 at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes.
9 To 5 runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 28th September 2019 before continuing its tour.
Further details about Milton Keynes Theatre can be found at http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/milton-keynes-theatre/

Photos: Pamela Raith

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