Aylesbury Waterside Theatre – until 2 October 2021
Reviewed by Susan Portman
Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 tells the story of three workmates pushed to boiling
point by their sexist and 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?
This hit musical was brought to the Waterside stage and the house was full of expectant people, some wearing masks (yes, Covid is still an issue) and others clearly still a little wary in general. However, once the curtain went up and Dolly Parton herself spoke via a recorded video, setting the scene, the outside world evaporated and all eyes focused on the stage.
Louise Redknapp portrayed Violet Newstead, the girl who went from ailing office lackey to self-appointed CEO. She gave a polished and slick performance, as she befriended and helped the new office girl Judy Bernley played by Vivian Panka, making her UK debut after appearing in theatres in the Netherlands. And what a debut it was, warming the audience, portraying a fragile soul in a new job. My word she can sing, and her voice ranged from soft and delicate to rich and powerful. Her relationship with Violet developed into an almost mother/daughter role and the duo became a trio when Doralee, the seemingly ‘dumb blonde’ joins the unhappy crew to exact revenge upon the boss.
Doralee is portrayed quite brilliantly by Stephanie Chandos. If Panka had the voice, then Chandos had the movement, as she strutted around the stage in huge stilettos, boobs and bum protruding in opposite directions. Her character was initially subservient to the boss but that quickly changed and the real Doralee revealed herself.
Then there was Roz Keith, the office senior, played by Julia J Nagle who has an impressive portfolio of work around the globe. Her character was not only sycophantic to the boss but she was hopelessly in love with him. She played this part so well that I really felt for her as she tried desperately to get her man. Did she? You’ll be surprised.
Franklin Hart Jr, played by Sean Needham was typical of men in the 1980’s. As the boss, it was always jobs for the boys and the women were only useful for filing, taking notes and making coffee. He was a sexist bully who treated all of the staff badly except for Doralee, who he wants to bed, but she is having none of it.
He gets his comeuppance when the three women team up to teach him a lesson. They kidnap him and prove that he has been cooking the company books, which they use a leverage to get what they want. Needham was superb as one of those loveable baddies. I felt a bit sorry for him, because he was so ignorant and a victim of his own avarice. This took consummate skill to convey to the audience but he is an excellent actor, and the audience took him to their bosom. His comedic delivery at times was priceless.
The whole cast and ensemble sang, danced and acted with energy and commitment, with each truly owning their role to bring out the very best of the characters.
The musical is raunchy in parts, and deliciously so. One does not necessarily expect a Dolly Parton musical to include a bedroom replete with gimp masks and sex toys. One lady nearby gasped at one point. It was also wonderfully politically incorrect in parts, portraying accurately as it did the zeitgeist of the 1980’s.
The costumes were set appropriately for the time. Indeed I remember wearing clothes very much like it and it really made me feel as if was back there, reliving my past.
I was hugely impressed with the stage design and lighting which vacillated from night sky or office scene to a hospital building in a flash. It was very cleverly done. The actors played their part in moving stage furniture too, but as part of each scene, which was impressive. The dance routines and choreography enthralled. There were a couple technical hitches with the microphones but it never detracted from the performance.
The audience reacted with glee. There was a warm appreciation for this rollicking performance and at the interval, one lady said she had seen the show many times around the UK but that ‘tonight was the best performance ever.’
This is Aylesbury Waterside Theatre then, a terrific venue with ample seating room, easy parking, friendly staff and excellent acoustics. You don’t need to go to the West End to enjoy professional, entertaining theatre. You can experience the feel-good factor right here. After two years being ‘locked away’ with Covid who would have thought that it would be Dolly Parton and this amazing production who would start to bring people back from their malaise?
The final number in Act I is called ‘Shine Like the Sun.’ Well they did, and after due consideration, I feel suitably confident about awarding full marks.