Dolly Parton’s acclaimed musical 9 to 5 at the Leeds Grand Theatre serves up a dish of energy, music and 1980s feminism in a way that no other piece of art could. With music and lyrics by Parton herself, a script by Patricia Resnick and director Jeff Calhoun at the helm, it was time to see what all the fuss was about.
The musical is based on the original 1980 film of the same name, revolving around three female office workers who fight back against their sexist boss, representing exactly the thoughts and feelings that were happening at the time. Rather than focusing on the theme of feminism directly, the play explores it through its quirky characters in the form of seasoned worker Violet, played by Jackie Clune, country sweetheart Doralee, played by Amy Lennox, and new worker Judy, played by Natalie Casey. All three characters are very different, but still manage to come together to stand up to the sexist and derogatory attitude of their boss Mr Hart, played by Ben Richards.
What follows is a slick sequence of song and dance routines, as the workers gradually become much more tightly knit and formulate a plan to fight back against their boss, who ultimately gets what he deserves. The story is sometimes told by Parton herself, appearing on the central clock that governs the workers’ lives. The songs are catchy and tell the story in a smooth and coherent way, while the dance sequences are incredibly energetic, making the performance delightful to watch.
A particularly interesting aspect of the performance has to be its use of scenery; despite the fact that there isn’t a lot of it, it is important in making the show so successful. Rather than focusing on lavish set design, the production as a whole concentrates more on the characters, allowing the themes of the musical to be fully conveyed to the audience. This is what makes 9 to 5 so special: the characters, despite their quirks and exaggerations at times, absolutely connect with us as the show progresses, and we can really understand where they’re coming from – and, more importantly, where they’re going.
What’s even more fascinating about 9 to 5 is its topic; I haven’t seen many musicals that deal with a subject as controversial as feminism in the 1980s. You might expect to see anger and frustration in a production with such a subject matter, but 9 to 5 takes the issues regarding how women were treated and turns them into a delightful, hilarious piece of musical theatre, which deals with the subject well and shows how it was overcome.
Parton’s playful lyrics and catchy songs, including the title number, really connect with the audience and had them all dancing with the cast at the end of the show. The whole production was a breath of fresh air, and one of the most interesting and energetic musicals I’ve seen this year.
9 to 5: The Musical is playing at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 1 June. For more information and tickets, see the Leeds Grand Theatre website.