Heading the cast are Marina Prior as Violet Newstead, the office supervisor who takes newbie secretary Judy Bernly (Casey Donovan) under her wing, and Eddie Perfect as their archetypal sexist boss, Franklin Hart Jr. A peroxide blonde Erin Clare takes on the role of Doralee Rhodes, whom the married Franklin openly pursues around his office.
As in the movie, Violet, Doralee and Judy – frustrated at the way they are mistreated and undervalued at work – end up kidnapping their boss, tying him up in bondage gear (some things have been updated) and making changes in their workplace (eg. equal pay for men and women; office childcare) that go down well with just about everyone. But when Franklin manages to escape and return to the office, will they get away with what they’ve done?
As well as the catchy ‘9 to 5’ (“I tumble outta bed and stumble to the kitchen, Pour myself a cup of ambition…”), Dolly Parton wrote the music and lyrics for the musical, some of which shine brightly and a few that are fairly forgettable. ‘I Just Might’ by Violet, Judy and Doralee is particular moving.
Casey Donovan is a revelation, impressing not only with her soaring voice but her expressive portrayal of the diffident Judy. The leads all perform with aplomb but for me the other standout was veteran performer Caroline O’Connor, who, as Hart’s private secretary and (not-so-secret) crush, Roz Keith, turns her smaller role into an utter scene-stealer. Her song, ‘Heart to Hart’, with Eddie Perfect – who complements her vocal range with his innate charm and physical humour – is a delight.
And behind all the hijinks, of course, are themes that are almost as relevant now in a post Me-too era as they were 42 years ago at the tail end of the women’s lib movement – that of equal rights, equal pay and personal freedom for women. As Violet says to her boss: “We just want to be seen as equal members of the human race.” 9 to 5 the Musical manages to be an ode to female empowerment and solidarity served up as an entertaining, humorous night at the theatre.
9 to 5 the Musical plays at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre until 8 May, then at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC from 22 May, and Arts Centre Melbourne from 10 July.