This is a show I have heard so much about. I’ve heard how successful the West End run, and each subsequent casting has been but it’s just never found its way to the top of my booking list. So when it was announced that the production would be touring the UK throughout 2019 and 2020 I was so excited by the opportunity to finally see this show and learn exactly what the story is. I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night at the Wales Millenium Centre in exchange for an honest review.
9 to 5 The Musical is the story of three workmates originally as different as night and day but pushed together by frankly unbelievable office scandals based on the unfortunately believable status of the working women in the 1980s. “Office veteran” Violet Newstead, office-newbie Judy Bernly and gossip subject Doralee Rhodes reach their boiling point as they continually face sexism and an egotistical boss.
Concocting a plan to kidnap and turn the tables on their despicable supervisor, will the women manage to reform their office, or will events unravel when the CEO pays an unexpected visit? [Wales Millenium Centre]
The principle trio of women is played by Caroline Sheen [Violet Newstead], Amber Davies [Judy Bernly] and Georgina Castle [Doralee Rhodes]. They. Are. Incredible. I am so glad that I saw this show with this cast. They simply melted into the characters and truly embodies them so that there were no seams or places where I was conscious that I was watching actresses other than to be amazed at how wonderful they were. Davies particularly caused an amazing wow moment during ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ as I just was not expecting that incredible belt moment to suddenly appear and it was literally music to my ears. Caroline Sheen is, of course, the absolute rock effortlessly blending Violet’s professionalism with vulnerability and a little kooky side that is a joy to watch. Whenever she was on stage her portrayal of Violet just draws you in and you just can’t help but root for her. Georgina Castle is one to watch. Her acting easily reflects her character’s journey from the unassuming country girl who you think you can pin down easily before suddenly becoming this little firecracker of spunk and attitude with a beautiful high voice. As much as I support each casting, I would say that if you do have the opportunity to see these ladies together you are in for an absolute treat and I think it’s a crime that there isn’t a West End cast recording available yet. Similarly, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from the music itself. However, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a collection of well flowing musical numbers offering a combination of a break for character development, as detailed below, a moment of indulgence for the character’s successes, and advancement of the core plot itself.
What pushed 9 to 5 that little bit further for me, however, was the intricacies of the characters themselves beyond the incredible actresses. They are insanely relatable and despite their original layout as the three categories of working women, you can quickly acknowledge that at least for me personally, you can see parts of yourself in two or even all three of them especially as they expressed themselves more and more throughout the show. The movement of the narrative from their initial separation towards their close friendship was really heartwarming to watch and, despite the insane aspects of the events which help them come together, it never feels contrived. This is because the book strikes a good balance between their character development as working women coming in solitary or group moments between the three of them, such as ‘Get Out and Stay Out’, ‘Let Love Grow’, ‘Hey Boss’ and ‘Backwoods Barbie’, and the truly crazy moments coming in the dialogue and in the antagonist Franklin Hart’s songs.
This amazing principle cast is supported by a truly well rounded supporting cast ranging from incredibly comedic, namely Lucinda Lawrence as Roz Keith, to a whole lot of heart and emotion through Christopher Jordan Marshall as Joe and the small insights given into the ensemble characters lives. To fully round out all of these wonderful aspects I also want to mention the simple yet effective set design along with the lighting design. It was so simple that it can take the audience a little time to fully appreciate its use but I feel that’s the little piece of genius in it. It avoids the trap of other overly simple set designs that just blend into the background and are clearly simply tools to move and prop up the actors. This set design, on the other hand, in its changes outlines the extremity of the changes made for the better by the women in the workplace and its simplicity, even when it is integral to the movement of the actors, ensures to push the actors and story to the forefront rather than simply fading out and only propping them up. The set and lighting easily and effortlessly set the tone beneath the numbers and settles you into the show particularly during ‘9 to 5’ as the opening.
The main plotlines of the show, and therefore the dialogue which communicates these to the audience, are very to the point and they keep absolutely no secrets. The setting of the 1980s and the primary themes of sexism in the workplace do both lead to some jokes of a sexist nature in both physical and spoken comedy. I personally can absolutely understand their key inclusion due to the setting and themes and I did find some physcal and spoken jokes quite funny through their excellent timing. I was also happy to see an effort of containment of these jokes particularly, as you would expect, to Franklin Hart’s character and his songs and dialogue. However, that does mean that the entirety of his songs are made up of these sexist jokes and for some, as I found myself waining by the end of the songs, the sheer consistency may slightly hinder enjoyment. However, while I did experience this as soon as the principle trio and their supportive characters come to the forefront again they reflected their narrative purpose to literally embody a breath of fresh air. I just feel that it should be made clear to those planning to attend that if these jokes are unsettling to be prepared.
Overall, I loved watching this show far more than I ever thought I would. The cast are simply incredible and their characters are just as intriguing, relatable and multi-layered as the actresses portraying them. It’s a heartwarming story of progress and friendship and, as long as you’re prepared for the particular brand of humor, I would recommend it to truly anyone. I love slice of life narratives, particularly those surrounding work lives, but this went even further in closely following work whilst also including plenty of excellent musical numbers and character development. It really is such a well-rounded, well-crafted peice of theatre for sheer enjoyment.
9 to 5 The Musical is currently running at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 2nd of November before continuing on tour throughout 2020. You can buy your tickets for the Cardiff stop here.
Tickets provided in exchange for an honest review of the production.
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