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Time Well Spent - with 9 to 5

9 to 5, Warwick Arts Centre from 15-17 June 2023

Review by David Court

This sentence may be somewhat of a spoiler, but I’d originally intended to title this article “What a way to spend an evening!”. However, having looked to see if anybody has used that line before, it appears to be an unwritten rule than any favourable review of 9 to 5 must have that title – therefore I’m going to break with tradition and go against the flow, avoiding any lazy references to songs from the show.

So, anyway, I tumbled out of bed and stumbled to the kitchen, poured myself a cup of ambition (decaffeinated), yawned and stretched and tried to come to life. I jumped in the shower and the blood started pumpin’, went to Warwick Arts Centre where the traffic had started inexplicably jumpin’, and girded myself to enjoy 9 to 5.

Clare Connolly as Judy, Karen Walsh as Violet, Jessie Heard as Doralee

The comedy movie of the same name (based on the screenplay by Patricia Resnick and Colin Higgins) originally opened in 1980, propelling the already hugely popular singer and musician Dolly Parton into the mainstream. The accompanying musical – featuring new songs from Parton – opened in Broadway in 2009. Telling the tale of three women and their struggles in a male-dominated workplace, the central themes of misogyny and sexual harassment (as is apparent from the welcome strides of the #MeToo movement) are just as familiar and relatable to audiences today as they were 40 years ago.

June the 15th at Warwick Arts Centre saw the opening night of the Three Spires Guildhall production with a packed theatre. Anticipation was clearly high, and within a few moments of the opening bars of the titular song it was apparent that the expectation wasn’t misplaced – it was confident and assured, and reassurance that we were in safe hands.

Any musical – regardless of the already proven strength of the quality of the songs, all of them absolute belters – is only as good as its leads. Jessie Heard (playing the role of Doralee Rhodes, immortalised by Parton in the film) virtually channelled the diminutive Dolly, all attitude and push-up bra, and Karen Walsh excelled as Violet, the downtrodden woman with ambition destined for so much more. Clare Connolly was a revelation as Judy, providing some full-bodied vocal gymnastics in defiance of the characters shy and retiring nature, and Jon Andrews fully embodied a sleazy protagonist in the form of the tyrannized trio’s loathsome boss Franklin Hart Junior – in a performance reminiscent of some of the better performances of Nathan Lane in attitude and demeanour. (His quote of ‘You’re not bad looking for a gal with a little tread on her tyres” was rightfully met with the pantomimic derision it deserved from the entertained crowed).

Jon Andrews as Franklin Hart Jr.

The supporting cast were also thoroughly excellent - with notable mentions for Casey McKernan as Violet’s lovestruck colleague Joe who gets to shine in the delightfully heartfelt song, ‘Let Love Grow’. Kudos also to Danielle Burrows’ Roz, the secretary who harbours lustful intentions towards her loathsome boss. ‘Heart to Hart’, her song from the first half, is very much in danger of stealing the show before it’s hardly begun – no mean feat in a show with so many memorable numbers. As a showcase for her talents, it’s nothing short of remarkable and very nearly brought the house down on opening night.

Danielle Burrows as Roz

From a technical standpoint, it’s nothing short of a small marvel. Scene transitions were performed seamlessly, with some excellent and memorable – and distinctive - sets. If I had to make a small gripe, it’s that the volume of the ensemble cast was a little subdued for my liking, a little lost in the audio mix – but that’s a very small criticism about an impassioned, enthusiastic, and fun musical which, in the wrong hands, could have felt a little dated.

All in all, I can’t recommend ‘9 to 5’ enough. Lively and spirited performances from all, with all of the cast displaying a particular knack for comic timings – something often hard to pull off on stage. All in all, what a way to spend an evening!

Darn, hoisted by my own petard.


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