9 to 5: The Musical (Arts Centre Melbourne) – theatre review

9 to 5: The Musical is energetic, sassy and colourful. What isn’t lost in this bright and breezy production though is the underlying point of it all. To see it played out makes one wince, just as it should.

Franklin Hart Jnr (Eddie Perfect) is the misogynistic and pompous CEO of Consolidated Industries. He rides rough shod over everyone and treats women shamefully, belittling and sexualising them. Among his employees is 15-year veteran senior office supervisor Violet Newstead (Marina Prior), who is bringing up a teenage son on her own after her husband passed away nearly three years ago. She is also being pursued by a well-meaning, younger junior accountant, Joe (Ethan Jones).

Photos by David Hooley

Doralee Rhodes (Erin Clare) is a happily married country girl. She is targeted by the would-be philandering Hart for her looks and as a result is ostracised by the other female workers who believe the pair is having an affair. Judy Bernley (Casey Donovan) is newly separated, after her husband, Dick (Joshua Mulheran), left her for his 19-year-old secretary. Bernley has never worked before and cries a lot when things go wrong. And then there is Roz Keith (Caroline O’Connor), Hart’s memo-obsessed administrative assistant and “spy”, who lusts after her boss. Violet, Judy and Doralee plot to get their own back on the boss, with brings with it many laughs.

The musical is based upon the 1980 movie and its continued relevance is unquestionable. In fact, it is a stirring reminder of what men have been able to get away with for far too long. The vocal audience reaction to the pithy one liners speaks volumes. With music and lyrics by Dolly Parton and a book by Patricia Resnick, 9 to 5 is a hoot. At times it is positively rib tickling. Some of the scenes are priceless. The characters are delightful and the strong cast really nail their performances.

The show is slick and seamless. Vocally, the leads excel. Marina Prior commands attention as the walked over supervisor, who has had enough. Casey Donovan is adept at transitioning the naive recruit. Erin Clare shows the blonde bombshell has smarts. Eddie Perfect revels as the sleazy, self-obsessed CEO. Caroline O’Connor is a scene stealer and don’t we just love her for it? She is jaw dropping brilliant.

Top and tailing the musical is Dolly Parton, who played Doralee Rhodes in the film and sang the hit song, which is also a mainstay of this production. She appears on a circular video screen, being a watch face, the centrepiece of an imposing gold and glitter sign that reads “9 to 5”. Without missing a beat, she introduces the main characters and gives us their back stories. She is such a natural and effervescent talent.

The staging is superb. Using a large video screen as a backdrop, the stage is framed by dozens of simple faux televisions that regularly change colour. Props, which transport us to the various business and home settings, are wheeled in and out in seconds, as the piece unfolds at a decent clip. Directed by Jeff Calhoun, with choreographer from Lisa Stevens, 9 to 5 is a triumphant, light-hearted musical that is heaps of fun, but still manages to convey an important message. It is playing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 18th September, 2022.

Alex First

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