9 to 5: The Musical – Review – Bradford Alhambra

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By Richard Mansfield, September 2021

After what we’ve all been through these last eighteen months, we were ready for this… Everything was buzzing for what felt to be a gala re-opening after such a long absence. The building itself seemed to have an extra sharpness and sparkle, the staff were especially welcoming and seemed almost as excited as those theatre-goers streaming in and who would contribute to what one sensed to be a full and boisterous house. One which, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the theme of achieving female emancipation in the workplace, appeared to be over 90 per cent female!

Based on the original 1980 film musical with Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda (and the latter’s acknowledged political influence on the theme of the story), written by Pat Resnick, and set in an office in corporate America, the script has been brought up to date with occasional topical references, particularly to a recent occupant of the White House. Yes, there are serious political and socially important issues to confront here and to reflect upon, but what an entertaining and enjoyable way to learn or be reminded of them. A script that played to the ironies and unfairness of past attitudes that are no longer quite the norm, although not yet entirely gone.

From the opening moments, this show is replete with both toe-tapping numbers and poignant songs reflecting the arcs of the three main characters as the story develops.

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“The girls come good”

Basically, the issue here is one of circumventing and defeating a sexist boss, who just wants a docile and unequal female workforce; one that he can exploit and bully both administeratively and sexually.

The villain of the piece is Franklin Hart Jr, played to notorious effect as an un-reconstructed male by Sean Needham. This is perhaps occasionally milked to almost pantomime level by his later misfortunes, but it provides a wealth of hilarious schadenfreude for the audience.

The three heroines are Violet Newstead, played by Louise Redknapp, who has justifiable, but thwarted, ambition to advance within the company, Judy Bernly, played by Vivian Panka, the new girl all at sea on her first day, one entering the workforce after her husband’s recent treachery, and finally Dorarlee Rhodes (Dolly Parton’s character) who has the focus of her boss’s lecherous eye.

The threesome plot his downfall.

After a number of inevitable mishaps, one of which sees one of them facing the prospect of a serious crime charge, the girls come good and the show ends with just deserts and the prospect of a new style of workplace, one fair to all and with less masculine malevolence.

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“Exciting and vibrant”

This is not a bawdy show, but on occasion one might speculate that certain exchanges and portrayals were, in times past, what we have might called ‘near the mark’, if not a bit beyond it. The audience appeared to approve though and no harm seemed to be done.

Across the board, this proved to be an exciting and vibrant production, at times almost electric in its pace, especially at the opening, and one that it would be difficult to find any serious fault with. That electricity came from the enthusiasm, movement, agility and vibrance of the cast, all of them. The set design was immaculate, those playing the main characters seemed to be at the top of their game and the ensemble gave more than commensurate support.

Taken overall, a magnificent show with which the Alhambra resumed business.

A joy to be witnessing live theatre again and an excellent choice for first offering, one well worthy of the standing ovation at its conclusion.

images: Pamela Raith Photography

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