Theatre review: 9 to 5 The Musical

Packed crowds at the Adelaide Festival centre were treated to a sensory treat of colour, humour and dance on Thursday at the opening night of 9 to 5 the Musical.

Oct 14, 2022, updated Oct 14, 2022
Marina Prior (as Violet Newstead) and the ensemble cast of '9 to 5 The Musical'. Photo: David Hooley

Marina Prior (as Violet Newstead) and the ensemble cast of '9 to 5 The Musical'. Photo: David Hooley

Beginning with an onscreen address by the queen of country herself, Dolly Parton – who wrote the score –  made a cheeky reference to Adelaide’s River Torrens before introducing each of the female protagonists.

After a full rendition of the famous titular song 9 to 5, the ensemble whirled into a flurry of song and dance while Violet, played by Marina Prior, introduced the office to newcomer Judy Bernly, played by Casey Donovan.

Inspired by the 1980 film, the plot of female empowerment in a male-dominated office feels as relevant as ever as the three protagonists are belittled by misogynist boss Franklin Hart, played by Eddie Perfect.

Perfect’s portrayal of the childish bully was a masterclass in physical and vocal humour, his characterisation disarming the show’s villain and allowing the audience to laugh at him.

While his desperate pursuit of Doralee Rhodes (Erin Clare) is at-first confronting, even in this humour-laden musical setting, it’s not long before the power dynamic shifts and we are able to enjoy the downfall of the increasingly pathetic antagonist.

Clare’s Doralee was excellent, with her southern American accent an embodiment of Dolly Parton’s character in the original film, along with big hair and a big onstage personality.

One of Australia’s leading ladies of musical theatre, Marina Prior, is masterful as the cast-aside Violet, with her character’s rise to CEO seeing dramatic costume changes and a tangible confidence boost onstage.

Casey Donovan’s performance as the shy Judy Bernly was also a delight, her high-pitched squeals eventually making way for an empowered solo in the second act.

Here the former Australian Idol winner’s voice nearly stole the show during an empowering song where Judy bids her ex-husband goodbye, each octave change as unbelievable as the last.

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As the plot surrounding the women’s takeover of the office began to unfold, a brief intermission was announced onscreen by Dolly.

Dolly’s frequent drop-ins onscreen could have felt contrived, but were executed in an integrated way that almost made one forget these were pre-recorded videos.

Caroline O’Connor’s portrayal of Roz Keith, the manager infatuated with Mr Hart was another highlight, particularly when she burst into a Latin-inspired song of adoration.

With a number of breaks in the fourth wall, the self-aware conceit of 9 to 5 was well delivered and endearing.

Bawdy humour was peppered throughout the show, with a fast-paced flow from full ensemble songs through to dialogue-laden sections.

Perhaps it’s tragic that an adaptation of a film celebrating female empowerment from over 40 years ago feels so relevant today. The triumph of the three women over their sleazy boss remains a satisfying journey for audiences, as it was in the film, as they grow in confidence and explore the newfound agency over their lives.

In the end, the audience of 9 to 5 the Musical left the Adelaide Festival Theatre with a sense of hope and joy – perhaps, ready to pour themselves a cup of ambition.

9 to 5 the Musical is showing until November 5.

Topics: musicals
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