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9 to 5 The Musical – New Wimbledon Theatre, London

Music and lyrics: Dolly Parton

Book: Patricia Resnick

Director: Jeff Calhoun

Reviewer: Ian Foster

[rating:3.5]

With a score that incorporates both songs from her back catalogue and newly penned numbers by Dolly Parton and a book from Patricia Resnick, one of the co-writers of the film on which it based which also featured Parton’s screen debut, there was little danger of 9 to 5 The Musical ever veering too far from the template which saw it become a cinematic success. But though its crowd-pleasing adherence to the film brings a definite feel-good factor, which is best characterised by the effervescent opening rendition of the title song, it also imposes limits on just how successful a piece of musical theatre it can be.

It’s 1979 and the office of Consolidated Companies, typical of most workplaces at the time, is a bearpit for the female of the species. But the tide is changing and as three women in this particular environment come together in the face of sexist adversity and an inadvertent deployment of some rat poison, an alternative way of running the company springs to mind and suggests that the future might not be so grim after all.

Amy Lennox’s Doralee is the pick of the bunch, her twanging charm always sparklingly fresh as she debunks everyone’s misconceptions about her and Jackie Clune’s Violet, seemingly forever destined to be passed over for promotion, is a strong, centring force for the production, although she does occasionally work a little too hard at appearing effortless, thus actually undoing her efforts. Natalie Casey’s newly-divorced Judy is less of a success, her comic performance sits firmly within her well-trodden comfort zone of klutzy mugging and her vocal limitations are exposed in her big solo number, which makes her altogether less of a sympathetic figure than she ought to be.

A strong ensemble dance up a storm with director Jeff Calhoun also on choreographer duties, but Bonnie Langford pretty much steals the show though with a delicious performance as lovesick PA Roz. Still an incredibly vivacious figure with impeccable comic timing, her showstopper Heart to Hart is one of the evening’s genuine highlights. And Ben Richards’ villainous boss is amusingly drawn in pantomime shades of evil, all dastardly swagger and fun with it.

And that’s the point of the show in the end, fun. To talk about its paper-thin characterisations, its inconsistent book with its weak ending, the blandness of the new songs, even the frivolous inclusion of Parton herself as a superfluous narrator figure, seems almost beside the point, but to ignore them would be a disservice to this assessment of a piece of musical theatre which has the potential to be something more. As it is though, 9 to 5 the musical does exactly what it says on the tin, with few real surprises but a joyous sense of celebratory fun.

Runs until 27th October and then tours the UK with dates booking through to July 2013

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