‘But, they did not sing Jolene‘, the millennial couple sitting next to us noted with a hint of disappointment, as they rose to applaud the cast at the end of 9 to 5 The Musical. Spoiler Alert! This ain’t no ‘Best Of Dolly Parton’ music concert.
For over five decades, this country music legend has ruled over the hearts of her fans – from boomers to Generation X and now millennials, thanks to Netflix specials, TikTok trends and social media memes.
Workplace Revenge Comedy
Three secretaries – perennially overlooked single mother Violet Newstead (Marina Prior), recently divorced new employee Judy Bernly (Casey Donovan) and married ‘Backwoods Barbie’ Doralee Rhodes (Erin Clare) – plot to take down their misogynist and sexist boss Franklin Hart Jnr. (Eddie Perfect). Viva la workplace revolution, with some rat poison, bondage, leather underpants, song and dance.
In the age of hybrid workplaces and work from home, the premise of this workplace revenge comedy, set in 1980s corporate America, may seem outdated. At times, the humour too. The sexist boss harassing his employee with sexual inneundos and inappropriate behaviour, is presented as the lovable rascal, while the character of Roz (Caroline O’Connor), the ageing administrative assistant pining in one-sided lust for the boss, is used for laughs.
But the musical does get many things right. The issues of workplace inequality, gender pay gap, sexual harassment, free child care, is as releveant in 2022 as it did in the 80s.
Where the musical really comes into its own is in its near-perfect casting and powerhouse performances by the lead and supporting cast.
Prior turns in a faultless performance as the sassy hard working secretary who is passed over for promotion in favour of her younger male colleagues. Clare, as the Southern gal, in the role made famous by Dolly Parton in the movie, gets to show off her vocal prowess and acting chops.
The real star of the show is Casey Donovan, who enters the office of Consolidated Industries as a wide-eyed, first time employee. By the end, Donovan’s character emerges as a confident woman, willing to believe in herself, with the rousing number ‘Get Out and Stay Out‘, that had the entire audience on their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation.
Fans of Ms Parton have reason to rejoice! There is a whole lot of Dolly here, including original songs, written specifically for the musical.
Dolly arrives on the stage, in pre-recorded videos on the clock face (a fabulous stage device), as the narrator and songstress. She even joins the cast and sings along to the 9 to 5 anthem.
9 to 5 makes us want to believe that female empowerment is possible, one song at a time.
9 to 5 is now playing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until September 18, 2022