David Hasselhoff joins the cast of ‘9 to 5 the Musical’, in the role of Franklin Hart Jnr, from December 2 2019 until February 8 2020.
Backwoods Barbie, rhinestone queen and all-round country music legend Dolly Parton has her glittering fingerprints all over this musical. She’s written all the songs, bar the iconic title track, especially for the show (this definitely isn’t a jukebox affair). She’s basically in it, as thinly disguised poodle-coiffed doppelgänger Doralee. And in case this escaped you, Parton pops up in video footage to introduce this whole bonkers confection to an audience of mad-keen fans.
‘9 to 5’ is a musical theatre version of the 1980 movie of the same name, which involves Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda running round an office and outwitting their dastardly male boss. And although this show started out in LA in 2005, it feels (shudder) pretty post-Weinstein, with its uncompromising focus on male shitness and violent retribution. Doralee (Natalie McQueen) can’t so much as climb a stepladder without her sleazy boss theatrically ogling her – and climbing any kind of career ladder is out of the question. Meanwhile Judy (Amber Davies, of ‘Love Island’ fame) is struggling to get to grips with some delightfully ’80s office tech, including a malevolent photocopier that attacks her with sheets of paper. And Violet – played by Caroline Sheen, subbing in for an injured Louise Redknapp who returns to the role next month – is a natural leader who’s longing for the promotion she deserves.
The plot, when it shows up, is about as ridiculous as these women’s ultra-glam interpretation of ‘office wear’. Violet accidentally laces the bossman’s tea with rat poison, then all three trap him in bondage gear while they turn the office into an equal-pay paradise with an on-site crèche. Fortunately, no one even pretends to take it seriously. And if Brian Conley’s performance as the panto villain-esque boss Franklin Hart Jnr is a little limp, it’s pretty forgiveable considering that he spends much of the show dangling from the roof in a studded pleather harness. Meanwhile, a fantastically game Bonnie Langford struts about in sexy undies as Roz, the initially old-maid-ish secretary who harbours a desperate unrequited passion for him.
‘9 to 5’ is this show’s best song, and it knows how to use it, ie as often as possible. There’s also a memorable performance of ‘Backwoods Barbie’ by Natalie McQueen as Doralee, who has Parton’s sweet yodelling tones down pat. Still, it would have been nice to hear her take a crack at ‘Jolene’. Or ‘Islands in the Stream’. Or ‘I Will Always Love You’.
But then, Parton’s best songs have a yearning earnestness that’s totally off-key for this brittle, joyful confection. If her whole brand rests on the sincere heart beating under her fake rhinestone-studded costumes, ‘9 to 5’ is all about her often overlooked feminist edge. It’s a hairspray-induced hallucination whose message lingers.