Sunday, 5 September 2021

REVIEW: 9 to 5 at the Mayflower Theatre

The huge 2300 seat grade II listed Mayflower Theatre has bounced back from the pandemic closure with a strong programme of Musical theatre and in a short period since reopening has presented tours of The Rocky Horror Show, Hairspray and now the opening week of 2021 regional tour of 9 to 5. The strongly themed shows around sexual awakenment and transvestism, racial equality and integration and female equality in the workplace respectively, though wrapped up in a period feel of the sixties to the eighties, still resonate well with audiences today in the era of Pride, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. But most of all they work as entertainments because they are fun, high energy and presented with a knowing charm, well targeted at audiences who crave that feel-good factor on a night out.

It is interesting that the West End too has found a strong response to Anything Goes at the Barbican, Hairspray at the Coliseum and Jersey Boys at the Trafalgar Theatre and now in previews, Back to the Future at the Adelphi with their period feel and lively high-quality presentation. The regional sector may not get the same production values and big-name casting but venues like the Mayflower are big and roomy enough to offer well-priced comfortable access to these big musical shows with top ticket prices less than half the average price achieved in London. It makes for a very good value night out without the travel hassles of the London Tube or a 20-mph speed limit in the congestion zone in London!

This touring production’s original start dates were delayed due to the Pandemic leaving the Mayflower Southampton as its opening venue and pushing some of the tours into the first quarter of 2022. The look and feel of the show come straight from the West End where it ran from January 2019 to March 2020 with a slick fast-moving staging using cast changed the furniture and back projection. The production team of director Jeff Calhoun, Lisa Stevens choreographer and designer Tim Rogers bring the 1978 film to the stage and breathe fresh life into the story with great success.

Dolly Parton herself (who wrote the music and lyrics) tops and tails the show via a video introducing the characters and revealing how their lives progressed at the end. She leads the singing of the song she wrote for the original film, “9 to 5”. It adds a stamp of quality to the show. Many of the other songs sound like variations around the musical theme of that hit number without ever quite matching it.

Only Louis Redknapp continues (for the 2021 leg of the tour) as Violet Newstead (the overlooked mother figure of the female workforce) from the original West End principals although Sean Needham steps up to lead as Franklin Hart (the egotistical sexist boss), a part he covered often in the West End and Stephanie Chandos returns as Doralee, the Dolly Parton character, (which she understudied). They are joined by Vivian Panka making her UK debut as the nervous new recruit, Judy Bernly and by Julia Nagle, as the office busybody Roz (so gloriously played by Bonnie Langford in London). Though at times they looked a little hesitant and nervous on only their second performance back, they have good chemistry between them and will soon settle into the roles again. There is great support from a very good ensemble, each with individual characters. 

The Southampton audience loved the mild sexual innuendo and the female characters sentiments. When they say, "Equal pay; in 10 years" time it won't even be a discussion" it gets a big laugh and Act 2 opens with an excellent 'One of the boys' as Violet dreams of being a female CEO. When she gets a chance to change the way the office works, she introduces job sharing, rehab support, personal photos on desks, changed office layout and table football and productivity is increased. I was surprised it had not been updated to include working from home on Zoom!

Dolly Parton in her programme notes says, “wish all the cast and performers all the very best, just don’t be too good or you may put me outta a job!” Well, this cast is certainly good enough to entertain large regional audiences and send them home with a smile on their faces and while few of us work 9 to 5 in office at the moment, as we might have done in the eighties, this is a perfect show for an office outing or coach party to enjoy around the UK in the next six months.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Row M | Price of Ticket: £44

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