REVIEW: 9 to 5 the Musical (Sunderland Empire) ★★★★

9 to 5 arrived in Sunderland as part of its UK tour. Unusually, the tour is sharing cast members from the current West End production and audiences at the Empire got to enjoy Amber Davies in the role of Judy.

Equality for women is sadly still an issue in today’s society but thankfully times have changed considerably since the 1980’s (when the film was written) on which this musical is set. With the music and lyrics written by Dolly Parton, the show revolves around three office workers, Violet Newstead, Doralee Rhodes and Judy Bernley, exacting revenge on their sexist boss, Franklin Hart Jr. Together, the women embark on a mission to gain control of the workplace and wipe out the inequality imposed by Hart.

The 3 leads throw themselves into their roles and are hard to fault. They have fantastic singing voices and are each given their own song with which to shine. Amber Davies exhibits great comic timing as the newly divorced Judy but it is her singing voice that really impresses especially in her rendition of Get Out and Stay Out. Stephanie Chandos’ Doralee could simply be an impression of Dolly Parton but Chandos stamps her own brand of feistiness on the character with an amazing set of lungs. Her version of Backwoods Barbie was truly moving. Laura Tyrer’s Violet, seemingly forever destined to be passed over for promotion, is a strong, centring force for the production. However, Lucinda Lawrence (Roz) steals every scene she is in as the office busybody with an unrequited crush on the boss. One true highlight of the show is her slapstick performance of Heart to Hart complete with saucy undies and a comic tango with boss Hart. Sean Needham’s villainous boss is amusingly drawn in pantomime shades of evil, all dastardly swagger and fun with it – especially as we lead into the end of Act 1 and the intermission.

The show is a good, solid, humourous night of entertainment, incredibly uplifting and has a real energy that runs through its core which rarely dips. The characters are well rounded, and director Jeff Calhoun has created a really warm atmosphere that encases the show. Lisa Stevens‘ intelligent and exciting choreography hits the delicate balance the show needs, and I think it is one of the reasons the show stays at such a high energy throughout.

This isn’t a Dolly Parton jukebox musical. 9 to 5 is the only well-known Dolly song in the show, although everything has a familiar Dolly twang to it. Fans won’t be disappointed though as she narrates her way through the show. The whole soundtrack to this show is infectious, leaving you energised and finding yourself on your feet clapping away.

The final words are from Dolly herself. If you enjoyed the show, tell everyone. If not, keep your mouth shut and they might still come anyway!

Reviewed by Susan Lindsay


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