Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Last night I had the pleasure of watching Music Theatre and Backstage’s collaboration of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 the musical. Coming out of the 80’s at a time of change for the female worker, the musical follows the lives of three incredible women who decide to take over their office with a sinister plan. When I read that the show was directed by George Marlin, I was intrigued, the show is all about female empowerment; I was concerned it would lose its feminist outlook. In an industry dominated by men, 9 to 5 was one of few popular shows born out of pure female talent. I found the choice to direct this as a man, was both interesting and brave by Marlin, especially considering the male lead is a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot”. Though after researching into the production history of the musical, he is not the first as both the Broadway and West End runs had a male director. What this says about the patriarchal industry is for you to decide but I was pleased that, for this production, having a male director didn’t impact the show itself as it still struck a chord of hope and pride in me for the future of these women. Perhaps a testament to Dolly’s songs, Patricia Hesnick’s writing and the actresses talent as much as Marlin’s direction. I am intrigued, however, to see how different the show could have been, were it directed by a woman.
But let’s go back to the production I saw last night. When the house lights went down, we all hushed as tension built to the sound of ringing phones and beeping alarms. Ensemble members entered the stage setting up the office, singing their lines of the opening number ‘9 to 5’ growing in number and flowing into a beautiful harmony as they established each of the characters we would see throughout the production.
The direction of this number shone a light on the simple but highly effective staging. Created by Backstage and designed by Amy Wassell, the stage was split in three with a bedroom on a raised platform on stage left, the office of Mr Hart on a parallel platform stage right and the downstage acted as different spaces to accommodate to the plot. Desks and office chairs were the only other set. Throughout the production, the stage transitions were on the whole very smooth with a few clunky crossovers. Most were performed by the actors while they sang and acted into the scene creating a seamless transition and helping the audience follow where we were moving to next.
All photos in this article by Abby Swain
Lighting a musical is a difficult job done brilliantly by Natalie Izquierdo. With symbolic lighting throughout, the design further highlighted the personalities of the leads, most notably in the song ‘I Just Might’ sung by the three female leads and ensemble. Another notably beautiful but simple use of the lights was to create an elevator on the stage when set would have been too much. Overall, the lighting states changed very smoothly adding to the whole impact of each scene change.
The acting talent of this production was impeccable. With Lydia Duval playing the head-strong, girl boss turned helping hand Violet Newstead, Mia Crockart playing the timid turned confident Judy Bernly, and Cass Curno playing the seemingly ditsy but strong Doralee Rhodes, the female leads worked perfectly together. Their friendship shone through in their performance; a joy to watch form. Each actress brought an incredible energy to their role. Their talent was clear through their ability to keep their American accents throughout the entire production both in their speech and in their singing, an incredibly difficult feat. In every scene they were in, their movements were deliberate and strong, showing their distinct personalities, further demonstrated through the costume design. Sourced by producers Cara Staniforth and Daisy Fox, every character had the perfect costume to fit their personality. With the leads’ reflecting their characters’ arcs; Violet changed to a bright purple power suit as her confidence bloomed.
The women’s friendship forms around their desire for revenge on their sinister, creep of a boss Franklin Hart played by Josh Phillips. An equally incredible performance. His solo ‘I’m Here for You’ sent chills down my back from both the words and Marlin’s direction. The comedic but terrifying role was delivered brilliantly and convincingly by Josh through this body language, who had the audience in a constant state of confused laughter and terror. While we watched the women’s friendship form we see Roz Keith, Hart’s assistant played by Evey Jermy, become alienated from the rest as her obsession with Hart prevents her from seeing the benefits of a female leader. Marlin directs Jermy’s rendition of ‘Heart to Hart’ hilariously revelling the audience into laughter and cheering for the confidence of this character.
Despite her want to be a strong and independent woman, Violet Newstead can’t hide her love that’s growing for fellow office worker Joe played by Christopher Bache. The two have a beautiful duet about their relationship. Though his voice is strong, Bache’s performance is a little weak, with Duval taking the lead in their scenes. Bache was one of the only three male performers in the entire show. Though he wasn’t onstage much, the patronising whiney character of Dick, was played well by Elliot King in opposition to the newly changed Judy (Crockart). King also took on the role of Mr Tinsworthy in one of the final scenes. His strength in multi-roling the parts helped the audience distinguish between the two. Though the original production called for a separate male and female ensemble for different scenes, this production worked well with a strong female presence as it kept our attention on the female perspective. Whether or not this was a conscious choice, it worked for the production.
The ensembles’ performance throughout the production matched that of the lead characters with brilliant acting and incredible harmonies. Without this strength, the show would not have been the same.
As always, the band’s performance was amazing. With each song hitting every beat, Musical Director Alex Boulton did an incredible job of bringing together the harmonies of the actors and of the musicians. Hidden behind the curtains rather than sitting in front of the stage, their performance was one of the best I’ve heard as part of a Musical at the University.
Overall, this collaboration between Musical Theatre and Backstage was a night to remember.
Tickets are available for tonight’s and tomorrows shows so get them soon!
For now, all I’ll say is, ‘Joy To The Girls’!
Written by Ellie Cansdale