Review: 9 to 5 The Musical at Liverpool Empire ****
What do you get when you marry (still) pertinent issues like female empowerment and equal pay with period piece Carry On-grade slapstick and seaside smut?
The answer of course is 9 to 5 the Musical, a strangely addictive mix of #MeToo moments, feisty feminism and pantomime sexism.
Dolly Parton was one of the triumvirate of women who got even with their awful boss in the 1980 film original. And this re-energised, re-designed version of the subsequent stage musical version has Dolly’s dabs all over it, with the Country Music queen herself delivering both the prologue and epilogue as well as penning the show’s music and lyrics.
Efficient-but-overlooked Violet (Louise Rednapp), nervous newbie Judy (Amber Davies) and sassy blonde bombshell Doralee (Georgina Castle) are three female office workers at dull company Consolidated where being one of the boys is more important than talent or experience, and being a woman involves making endless cups of coffee or being chased around a desk.
Slighted once too often, and emboldened by the application of a generous spliff, they trio decide to take revenge on boss Franklin Hart Jr and make their workplace a brighter, more inclusive and happier place at the same time.
Revenge can come in many forms, but in 9 to 5 it involves a fantasy of preposterous proportions – the ridiculous plot only made palatable by a glorious turn from Sean Needham as Hart, less a sleazy, lecherous lothario than a sad sack sexist.
Needham is a nifty scene stealer with keen comic timing whose every brilliant (and wincingly desperate) move is hotly anticipated and hugely enjoyed by the audience.
Louise Rednapp as Violet in 9 to 5. Photos by Simon Turtle
The show’s three leading ladies meanwhile all give good – and distinct – performances.
The big-voiced Davies reprises her role from the musical’s West End run, while Rednapp delivers a Roxy Hart-a-like dance dream number (One of the Boys) that gives a slinky nod to her Strictly experience, and Castle channels her inner Dolly – albeit a Dolly who has snaffled the entire ‘Eat Me’ cake from Alice in Wonderland – in a delightfully wistful number Backwoods Barbie.
Lisa Stevens’ choreography is enjoyably slick while designer Tom Rogers has framed the action within arches of clunky 80s computer screens that change from washed out monochrome to fluorescent pinks and greens as the sisterhood takes over the running of the firm and brightens its outlook.
Yes it’s silly, yes it’s far-fetched. Yes, the music isn’t for the most part vintage Dolly. And yes, it’s somewhat depressing that four decades on from the original film (a time when Britain and India at least had female leaders) we’re still having debates about equality.
But there’s plenty to be po-faced about in the real world, so why not enjoy 9 to 5 for what it is - a well-performed, neatly crafted slice of amusing theatrical escapism.