Entertainment & Arts

Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 'energetic but lightweight'

Dolly Parton Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Dolly Parton at the opening night of 9 to 5 the Musical

It's nearly 40 years since 9 to 5, starring Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, hit the big screens and became known as "a seminal feminist film" (according to Vogue at the time).

Now a musical version of the film has opened in London's West End, with music and lyrics by Parton.

An earlier version of the Tony-award winning show toured the UK in 2012-13, after opening in Manchester.

It tells the story of three women who join forces at work to get their revenge on their monstrous boss, played by Brian Conley.

Critics have largely praised the lead performances, but were split over whether the plot's message was feminist or outdated in the #MeToo era.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Caroline Sheen (left), Natalie McQueen (centre) and Amber Davies (right) star as a trio of secretaries

The Guardian's Michael Billington enjoyed the musical's advocacy of workplace equality. In his three star review for The Guardian, he said: "The show is a piece of slick commercial packaging, but it still argues that equal pay, flexible hours and in-house daycare are not only vital targets but also make for better business.

"While the musical is a simplistic revenge fantasy, it is stylishly put across in Jeff Calhoun's production.

"This may be mass-market feminism but, with its advocacy of workplace equality, I could not bring myself to dislike it."

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Image caption Amber Davies found fame in ITV2's Love Island

But Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard gave it two stars, complaining that the plot's message was "grimly reductive".

Mountford wrote: "If even the show's advertising material refers to our three grown women heroines as "the girls", questions must surely be asked about how much of an ironic spin on the outdated sexual politics of four decades ago this really is. The only people seated around me who were laughing were late-ish-middle-aged men."

She continued: "The songs have a little of Parton's usual sprinkling of stardust, but only 9 to 5 and Backwoods Barbie - amusingly printed in the programme as 'Backwards' Barbie - stand out. There's not enough real firepower here or in Patricia Resnick's script."

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Image caption Caroline Sheen (seen here with Christopher Jordan Marshall) stepped into the role of Violet after Louise Redknapp injured her wrist

In a three star review for Time Out, Alice Saville felt the show's message shone through the plot holes. "The plot, when it shows up," she wrote, "is about as ridiculous as these women's ultra-glam interpretation of 'office wear'.

"If Parton's whole brand rests on the sincere heart beating under her fake rhinestone-studded costumes, '9 to 5' is all about her often-overlooked feminist edge - it's a hairspray-induced hallucination whose message lingers."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parton joined the cast for a curtain call

Sarah Crompton of What's On Stage found it fun, giving the production three stars.

Crompton wrote: "When it says 'Dolly Parton presents…' I didn't quite expect the great singer songwriter herself to pop up in a barrage of screens and introduce her own musical.

"As it is, her good nature and sparkle carry us a long way through a show that knows exactly who it is pleasing and does so with a lot of energy, if not a huge amount of style.

"It all adds up to brash, enjoyable fun, not quite as classy as Parton herself, but perfectly pitched for its audience who are all out to forget the 9 to 5 and have a really good time."

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Image caption Parton's image is even included in the set design

Dominic Maxwell of The Times enjoyed the fact that Parton made an appearance in the show. His three-star review makes much of the singer's involvement: '"Hey there, London!' says a pre-recorded video of Dolly Parton. 'Don't you look fancy?'

"Pre-recorded Parton is not finished there, though. She introduces this feel-good feminist revenge comedy, an adept adaptation of her 1980 film, by singing the famous title song.

"Fair enough. You've got a superstar writing the songs: use her.

"And it fits the warm, larger-than-life, slightly overblown comic feel here. Jeff Calhoun's West End production rarely takes you by surprise, but it never really lets you down either."

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Image caption Brian Conley and Natalie McQueen in 9 to 5 the Musical

But the Metro's John Nathan felt let down, giving the musical two stars. "Even if country music queen Dolly Parton herself had been cast," he said, "she couldn't have saved this vapid, musical version of her 1980 movie."

He continued: "Comedian Brian Conley certainly can't, even though - or maybe because - as horrible boss Franklin Hart Jr, his long-suffering secretaries tie him up in his own bondage gear like a suckling pig and suspend him from the rafters."

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Image caption Bonnie Langford was praised for her performance as office worker Roz

Critics generally felt the cast did an excellent job with the material. In his three star review for The Telegraph, Dominic Cavendish singled out Bonnie Langford for praise, writing: "Employee of the month should go to Bonnie Langford as the office toady Roz.

"Her ludicrous devotion to 'The Man' reaches its zenith in a madcap dream-sequence number that finds her hanging upside-down off Conley in stockings and a corset.

"What a trouper! A case of go, y'all? Well, it's certainly not for everyone, but there are worse ways of spending a few hours after a hard day at the office."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Computer screens feature heavily in the set design

In another three star review, Luke Jones of The Daily Mail praised the show's three leads but found the plot overall too lightweight.

Jones wrote: "Our secretary trio is Caroline Sheen, Natalie McQueen and Amber Davies. Davies is far better than her Love Island career start would have you expect, Sheen is solid West End standard, but McQueen as Doralee (unmistakably the rootin'-tootin' Dolly Parton role) is the closest thing to stardust with fine Tennessee-twang vocal cords and a Barbara Windsor slapstick quality.

"But on the whole, it's as limp as February panto. Energetic but lightweight. When you plaster Dolly Parton over every slice of poster and programme you expect something at least approaching her charisma and genuine depth beneath the make-up and hair."


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