Thursday, December 20, 2012

9-5 @ The New Alexandra Theatre, Wednesday 19th December 2012

It’s panto season! On no it isn’t...oh yes it is...oh no it isn’t etc. Whilst most theatres are rolling out the traditional panto the New Alexandra has something a little different on offer, the musical adaptation of Dolly Parton’s finest hour (and 50 minutes), 9-5. Actually if you use your imagination there is a little panto link in there somewhere, with the lead male character making the perfect villain and the three key female roles starting off as distinctly downtrodden before triumphing, Cinderella like, and living happily ever after. Hurrah!

Like the movie it’s all set in the dim and distant past, 1979, when sexism in the workplace was the norm and the most that female employees could often hope for was a job as a secretary (okay, so Maggie was running the country but no one wants to remember that). I guess that given our current economic woes most people would probably give their right arm for that kind of job right now but we’ll gloss over that eh? 

Photo courtesy of Simon Annand

Our heroines, the tough cookie Violet, the ample bosomed blonde Doralee (no prizes for guessing who she’s based on) and the recently dumped Judy are all, in one way or another, wronged by their boss Franklyn J Hart. Boo! Hiss! After discovering that he’s fiddling the books, as well as trying to fiddle with the lovely Doralee...ahem...they spot their chance for revenge and, well, you’ll just have to go and see the show.

The story’s a perfect vehicle for musical treatment and the producers have done a great job of capturing the look and feel of the 70’s with some remarkably simple but effective staging and oodles of period costumes. If there’s a worldwide polyester and nylon shortage we’ll know who’s to blame. The casting’s equally strong with Jackie Clune toughing it out as Violet, Amy Lennox all dollied up as Doralee and Natalie Casey making the perfect mousey Judy. 

Photo courtesy of Simon Annand

Casey in particular delivered some stunning vocal performances, most noticeably in Act II when her character finds that inner strength to reject her slimeball ex's advances. Girl power 70s style. 

Photo courtesy of Simon Annand

Ben Richards was suitably sleazy as Hart, maintaining that air of superiority and testosterone fuelled aggressiveness even when trussed up like a turkey whilst the legendary Bonnie Langford (who’s seemingly been performing since she was a twinkle in her granddad’s eye) drew some of the biggest laughs of the night as the, scrap that...lust struck Roz. The sight of Ms Langford in stockings and suspenders, legs akimbo, will stay with me for many years to come. Kudos too for Lori Haley Fox’s delightfully drunk and dishevelled Margaret, a relatively minor role that she made a real highlight. Oh...and Dolly of course. Yes, the Backwoods Barbie herself was there. Not in person obviously but via some pre recorded footage beamed onto a screen above the stage. It’s a simple device enhanced by some split second timing that made it seem like she was commenting on the action going on down below. She’d taken the time to record a small section that mentioned Birmingham too, typical of that legendary Southern charm of hers I guess.   

The songs (some of which were culled from the film and Dolly's albums, others composed specifically for the musical) really helped to build empathy with the characters and the choreography was a cut above the standard musical fare with some particularly lively ensemble numbers and one or two ambitious lifts that really wouldn't be out of place in a Strictly final.

Put it all together and you have something as instantly loveable, warm hearted and endlessly entertaining as Dolly herself. If you're looking for a fabulous night out Christmas presents don’t get much better than this Birmingham.

9-5 is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until 5th January 2013 then off on tour across the country.  Dates right here y'all. 

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