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9 to 5 The Musical was never going to be subtle. The question was whether a schmaltzy story about Seventies girlpower and sexism in the office was going to entertain a modern audience for two hours.
I’m a latecomer to musicals but I’ve packed a lot of them in during the year at Muddy Stilettos and I’d rank this one near the top. There’s a strong cast led by Ben Richards, who’s starred in a clutch of West End musicals, Jackie Clune, Natalie Casey (probably the stand-out actor as spurned wife Judy) and Amy Lennox in the Dolly Parton role of buxom Texan Doralee.
Love-her-or-hate-her Bonnie Langford is also along for the ride as Ros, the boss’s lovelorn assistant, but Langford is worth her weight in gold on stage, stealing the show with the funniest number of the lot, as well as looking unbelievably amazing in basque and suspenders. She’s in her late forties and looks like she should be doing lingerie modelling. Amazing.
It was the first night of the show in Oxford’s New Theatre on Monday night and it was totally packed out. Screaming fans of I’m-not-sure-who plus the occasional group of drag queens gave the evening a frisson even before the show started.
The performance opened with 9 to 5, a confident marker for the evening as it’s probably the only song most of us know, as a whole load of brown-suited guys and polyester bloused-women battled it out around the typing pool. From here it was two hours of effortless pitch-perfect singing from all the leads, and slick acting and high-octane dancing (though I’m not including Jackie Clune in this -let’s just say her metier isn’t in the chorus line). Meanwhile the songs and lyrics, all written by Dolly Parton, were predictably catchy and clever.
The only parts of the show that irritated me were the regular interjections of Parton herself, who took the unnecessary part of narrator, her face beamed up onto the clock on the set, introducing the characters, setting up scenes and jolting people out of the imaginary world of the show with references to herself and the film. The musical would have been better served with the story unfolding naturally.
The theme of equality at work sadly seems just as relevant now as 40 years ago, and there’s an interesting exchange where Clunes’ character, in charge now that her boss is tied to his bed at home, offers the secretarial pool creches facilities and flexi-working – I haven’t met too many female bosses that kind! And doesn’t 9 to 5 sound dandy now that we work more like 8 to 6 these days?
If you’re thinking about taking your kids, just ask yourself how squeamish you might get as the male characters ogle Doralee’s bum and chase her round the table or force her to pick up pencils so they can get a better look at her cleavage. It might wash over little ones altogether but older children will definitely get the sexual references.
The end of the show was a shameless clap-along, and most of the audience was on its feet by this point. Mr Muddy would have felt nauseous but, pah!, he wasn’t there, and it was all great fun. The curtain went down as the performers lay on the floor waving from the stage floor, the audience roared and I went home feeling euphoric on a Monday night, with my week at work barely started.
Tickets £15-42. ‘9 to 5 The Musical’ plays at the New Theatre Oxford until Sat 8 December. Buy tickets here. www.9to5themusical.co.uk.