From the book by Patricia Resnick
Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton
Director Jeff Calhoun
Capitol Theatre Sydney
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Should some of the issues that we had forty-two years ago still be at the fronts of our minds? Equal pay for women, misogyny, sexual harassment in the workplace, more women on boards and in CEO positions and old boys clubs are still hotly discussed.
That’s why 9 to 5 is as relevant today as it was four decades ago.
Dolly Parton appears on the big, round screen to open the show with the famous song and to set up the action, and she closes the show as well. It’s almost like being in an arena concert where you can see the performer projected onto the big screen.
For those of you who haven’t seen the 1980 film, 9 to 5 is a musical that follows the progress of three women who work at Consolidated Companies. None of the women are in senior management roles. The highest position to which they can aspire is senior secretary.
Judy Bernly (Casey Donovan) was a housewife who now has to work because her husband ran off with his young secretary. She has no experience or qualifications to work in an office, but Violet Newstead (Marina Prior) who has worked at the company for 15 years, is confident enough in her own ability to train Judy. Violet is a widow whose daughter wants her to hook up with a man.
Doralee Rhodes (Erin Clare) is a sexy Southerner who is the subject of Frank Hart’s persistent approaches. Frank (Eddie Perfect) is the company’s Vice-President. He’s a chauvinistic, misogynistic, narcissistic autocrat who uses sporting metaphors to explain the points he makes.
When Violet is passed over for a promotion that is given to a man she trained, the battle is on. The three women plot, plan and scheme to remove Frank, and Violet dreams of being the CEO of Consolidated Companies.
Between the women and the V-P is Roz (Caroline O’Connor), Frank’s loyal admin assistant who is Frank’s eyes and ears in the office. Roz has an unhealthy infatuation for her boss.
After some fun and games, everyone gets what they deserve, and the women end up in bright colours while the men remain in grey suits.
Even though it's set in 1980 (there are stylised older computers and a reference to adding machines), it has been seamlessly contemporised.
Lisa Stevens’ choreography is lively and captures the period perfectly, and Tom Rogers’ set design allows for effortless scene changes.
Producer John Frost has been a titan in Australian theatre for decades, and he has again come up with a superb offering.
This show has been well cast under the direction of Jeff Calhoun. The three women are fantastic, and on opening night, Casey Donovan was given a mid-second act standing ovation. I hadn’t previously seen Erin Clare who filled the Dolly Parton role brilliantly. Of course, Marina Prior always brings her high level of professionalism, flair and powerful voice to every role in which she’s cast, and Caroline O’Connor milks the character of Roz to within an inch of its life, in a good way.
This production of 9 to 5 is slick, extremely professional and thoroughly entertaining. It would be outstanding anywhere in the world. My companion said that it was hard to believe that it was the opening night because it was so smooth it was as if it had been running for months.
This is definitely one to see.
Warning: Even if you’re not a country music fan, you WILL walk out of the theatre with an earworm. “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living…”