The leading lady Louise Redknapp, who had a non-Covid related illness, may have been missing from the press night of 9 To 5 The Musical at Sunderland Empire, but it didn’t dampen the mood of one of the funniest shows on the touring circuit.
Stepping into the stilettos of ambitious working mum Violet Newstead was Sarah-Marie Maxwell in this musical version of the hit 1980 film starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
She’s joined in this trio of women who make a stand against sexism in the workplace by Vivian Panka who displayed some cracking vocals as new girl on the block, Judy Bernly, and a perfectly perky, yet fierce, Stephanie Chandos who donned the peroxide wig and pink pencil skirts of Doralee Rhodes.
The latter is a role inextricably linked to country queen Dolly Parton who shone in the film and it’s testament to her star power that even though she’s a talking head on a screen in the musical you can still feel her effervescent energy.
Dolly is also responsible for the music and lyrics in the stage version, with Patricia Resnick behind the book, and it makes for a musical with more fleshed out songs than most.
The title track is, of course, an instant toe tapper, but songs like Backwoods Barbie and Change It also pack a punch.
Meanwhile, Heart to Hart displays Dolly’s real knack for comedy with its witty lyrics performed brilliantly by Julia J Nagle as unctuous employee Roz and the gloriously egotistical Sean Needham as Franklin Hart Jnr.
Franklin is the kind of sexist many of us have encountered, sadly, and Sean played the boarish boss brilliantly with some spot on comic timing which provided plenty of laugh out loud moments – especially when he’s left hanging, literally, at the end of Act 1.
This is, however, a female led show and it’s refreshing to see a female-based plot on stage that isn’t just another love story; it’s about them paving their way at work and women empowering women.
It’s somewhat depressing that 40 years after the film was made women are still fighting for equality, but the musical makes some clever social commentary whilst also making for a cracking night of escapist entertainment away from your own 9-5.
The staging, though mostly based in the office, is slick with a clever use of ‘80s TV screens creating the fast-paced set changes.
The first act had a better pace and energy for me, but the second half still has you rooting for the trio as they turn their unequal workplace on its head and there’s a palpable sense of achievement as their fight pays off in the finale of this musical Me Too movement.
*9 to 5 The Musical is at Sunderland Empire until Saturday, November 13. Tickets from atgtickets.com. Louise Redknapp is due to return for remaining Sunderland performances this week.