9 to 5: The Musical
Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin
The stage is framed by a montage of newsprint photographs of cultural icons from the late 1970s – Barbara Streisand, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II – recognisable figures from a pre-technological era that seems centuries, rather than mere decades, ago. And, lo, who’s that hovering above the stage? Well, if it isn’t Dolly Parton, country-and-western singer, sometime actress, and composer and lyricist of this musical version of 9 to 5, the film she starred in with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 1980.
Parton is also the narrator of this tale of office politics, setting the scene for the three protagonists as if they are visitors from a distant planet, and it is certainly true that, from the vantage of the internet age, the idea of a nine-to-five working life seems quaint.
The plot pits these working women against their corrupt, misogynist boss, Franklyn J Hart (played with oleaginous smarm by a moustachioed Ben Richards). Violet (Jackie Clune) is the hard-working heartbeat of the office, overlooked for promotion because of her gender. Doralee (Amy Lennox) is the office sweetheart, written off as brainless because of her looks. Judy (Natalie Casey) is the office ingénue, newly-divorced and new to the workplace, and it is her treatment by Hart that spurs the women on to revenge.
The title song was a huge hit for Parton when the film was first released, and it forms the centrepiece to a score that ranges from comic pop to heartfelt country to cheesy soul, all enlivened by a backdrop of loud synthesised keyboards and slide guitars. The standout number, Backwoods Barbie, is vintage Dolly. Sung by Dolly look-alike Lennox, its lyrics include, “I’m just a backwoods Barbie in a push-up bra and heels. I might look artificial, but where it counts I’m real. Don’t let these false eyelashes lead you to believe that I’m as shallow as I look ’cause I run true and deep.”
But it isn’t until Bonnie Langford gets her solo in a show-stealing Heart to Hart, that director Jeff Calhoun really embraces the ridiculousness of this frothy confection. 9 to 5 may still be politically relevant – as the audience’s laughs of recognition will attest – but the aim here is fun, and they certainly hit the target.