King’s Theatre: Wed 15 – Sat 18 Mar 2017
Review by Hugh Simpson
Rollicking and rumbustious, but with surprisingly deep reservoirs of emotion, the Bohemians’ production of 9 to 5 The Musical at the King’s is a definite hit.
There can be no denying that the musical – adapted from the 1980 film about three women from different backgrounds who unite to overcome their misogynistic boss – is an odd affair.
That there could be a feelgood, singalong musical, with songs by Dolly Parton (one of the film’s stars), about overturning patriarchal assumptions and instituting more family-friendly office working practices is something of a shock. It certainly seems to have come as a surprise to Patricia Resnick, who wrote the book, as the storyline is constantly leaping into elements that writers of 50s screwball comedies would have baulked at.
The best that can be said of an extended sequence where the three main characters smoke pot and detail their revenge fantasies is that it is slightly less boring and baffling than such a scenario would be in real life.
It is a shame that such wackiness occasionally intrudes, as the core of the story is strong. Obviously it depends on the three female leads, and this production is exceptionally well served in this regard.
commanding and sympathetic
Pauline Dickson, as widowed mother Violet, constantly overlooked for promotion in favour of less qualified men, is a commanding, sympathetic and extremely tuneful.
Jo Heinemeier, as divorcee Judy, forced to support herself after her husband left her for his secretary, copes admirably with a character that is too self-consciously ‘daffy’, investing the part with strength, grace and power.
Katherine Croan has a tough job, as her character may be called Doralee but there is no hiding the fact that she is really playing Dolly. The real thing even pops up (courtesy of projections that are a neat touch even if not always completely in synch with the live performance) to remind us who the character is meant to be. And there is no doubt that this is an impersonation of Parton, but it is an extremely good one – and there are worse people to be impersonating.
Not only is the bubbly, brassy side of the character much in evidence, there is also a convincing vulnerability and that catch in the throat that distinguishes Parton’s more emotional numbers, best shown in a touching rendition of Backwoods Barbie. This is the only song that could hint at this turning into a Dollywood jukebox musical, but slots in here to great effect.
Appropriately, it is when the three leads combine that they are most impressive, notably on I Just Might, which is genuine lump-in-the-throat time and the evening’s undoubted highlight. There cannot be much higher praise than to say that it evokes Parton’s celebrated trios with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, in effect if not in style.
Colin Cairncross, meanwhile, is utterly repellent and truly fascinating as boss Mr Hart, with his featured number Here For You a thing of loathsome wonder. Kirsten Simpson lifts his devoted assistant Roz out of the realms of the stereotypical with some genuine feeling on her Heart to Hart.
The solos are not shared around to anything like the extent of many recent musicals, but Thomas McFarlane swaggers convincingly as Doralee’s husband Dwayne, while Gareth Brown, as Violet’s love interest Joe, is suitably touching in their duet Let Love Grow.
The large ensemble numbers are commendably together, with Dominic Lewis’s choreography and Andrew Layton’s costumes adding an acceptable level of 70s cheese without the OTT approach that sometimes results from comparatively recent period pieces.
MD Finlay Turnbull leads a spirited band who charge through the funky uptempo numbers with abandon, but are able to rein it back for the more contemplative numbers – which may not be the main draw, but work better overall.
The King’s stage is used cleverly, with difficult scene changes handled with the minimum of fuss, and Malcolm J. Burnett’s technical direction sure-footed.
Considering how thin the book is at times – when a 2008 written but 70s set musical resorts so often to anachronistic language being ‘invented’ by the characters, inspiration is truly running dry – this has considerable emotional impact. This is largely due to director Jon Cuthbertson’s sureness of touch, and to the three excellent principals being backed up by a company whose overall standard is extremely high.
Running time 2 hours 25 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Wednesday 15 – Saturday 18 March 2017
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat at 2.30 pm