Exhuming old favourites for musical reinventions can be a hit-and-miss venture. But as Rod McPhee discovered, the makers of 9 to 5: The Musical have a hit on their hands.
IT would be easy to take a lazy glance back at the long line of comedy flicks and dismiss 9 to 5: The Movie as something of a tacky low point.
But break it down: this Stateside story of women fighting back against misogyny and workplace oppression was doing what Sex and the City did long before Sarah Jessica Parker could afford her first pair of Blahniks.
And just remember, it wasn’t just Dolly Parton on the billing, she was flanked in the big screen version by Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
But, of course, that didn’t mean a musical revival of the sitcom would work – not every reinterpretation of old favourites can work as well as Mamma Mia! or Legally Blonde.
Which is something Amy Lennox was more than aware of when she took on Parton’s role of Doralee Rhodes in the current stage version which tours to three Yorkshire cities this year.
“There a lot of tacky musicals out there,” she admits “Even Legally Blonde got a certain stigma attached to it because it was marketed in a pink and fluffy way – but it’s not like that at all.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into with 9 to 5. When I auditioned there was a version of it in the states, which gave me a rough idea, but I hadn’t seen it.
“I thought it could be good or bad, but I was never going to know for sure until I got into rehearsals. Suffice to say I’m really relieved now and were all very proud of it.”
Over the last 15 years revivals have become euphemisms for the jukebox formula which worked well for the aforementioned Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, but didn’t prove a long-term magic formula for a string of here-today, gone-tomorrow shows.
Amy says: “There are a lot of jukebox musicals where its just the songs of one artist or one era and they have to create some story around the songs. Personally, I’m not a fans of those, though I know a lot of people are.
“I like it when the songs are written to work with the story and that’s what you get with 9 to 5: The Musical – apart from two songs, one of them obviously being the theme tune, all the tunes have been newly written by Dolly Parton herself.
“So I think the show surprises a lot of audiences. I think a lot of them come thinking they’re going to get something close to a jukebox musical, but it really isn’t. They tend to be very pleasantly surprised though.”
The surprise stems not only from the fact that the musical isn’t the mere fleshing out of a bare-bones story, but also by the quality of the script. Although it’s the lightest of entertainment, it also delivers some killer lines and characterisation which nudges a musical above the mediocre.
The quality of the cast is also outstanding. Ben Richards, former star of TV’s Footballers’ Wives and The Bill, is Franklin Hart, the slimy boss who keeps office workers Violet Newstead (Jackie Clune) and Judy Bernly (Natalie Casey) in a perpetual state of frustration due to his lying, bullying management methods.
Lennox has been blowing audiences away with her voice, which is no surprise since her CV boasts previous appearances as Elle in the West End debut of blockbuster musical Legally Blonde.
But since she’s playing another ditsy blonde she’s had to avoid the easy inclinations towards playing the central character, Doralee, as Parton herself.
“When I got the call to say I’d got the job, I was really chuffed,” says Lennox. “But I was also apprehensive, thinking, ‘Oh God, now I have it, what do they want from me exactly?’
“What’s particularly scary is that I realised that there would obviously be a lot of Parton fans coming in to see it and I was thinking, ‘Will they be disappointed if I don’t sound exactly like her – what, exactly, do the Parton fans want and expect?’
“But when I turned up on the first day of rehearsals with all these questions the director just said, ‘You’re not actually playing Dolly Parton, you’re playing Doralee. Obviously there’s an essence of Dolly about her, but you also HAVE to make it your own, you can’t try and imitate her.’”
If it all sounds like entertainment that’s just too light, don’t balk too quickly.
“It’s not entirely meaningless,” insists Lennox “It is great fun and tongue-in-cheek, but it still rings a lot of truths about inequality in the workplace.
“It’s curious to watch something set in the early 80s and consider how unequal things still are today – and yet I’m sure quite a few young people will be coming to see the show like it’s some kind of period drama.
“In one scene one of the female employees says, ‘Did you know that some of the male employees are getting paid more than we are for doing the same job?’ And it’s said knowingly as if to remind us that that’s actually still the case today.”
That said, there is more than a little of the hen party about this musical. Aside from the important themes of female empowerment there’s also a rumbling sensation of oppressed females letting rip.
“And some of the audiences have been crazy, shouting things out and clapping along,” says Lennox. “In Edinburgh there was a scene where Judy turns around and throws her husband out and some woman in the front row shouts out, ‘You go, girl!’ Which is just brilliant.”
But Amy wants to make one thing clear before anyone comes to see 9 to 5 hoping to catch a different star in the lead: she ISN’T the former star of pop group, the Eurythmics.
“Some people have misread my name on the billing before,” she admits. “And thought they were expecting to see Annie Lennox on stage – I just hope they weren’t too disappointed when the curtain went up and it was only me standing there.”
9 to 5 tour dates in Yorkshire
February 4 to 9, Grand Opera House, Cumberland Street, York, 7.30pm, 2.30pm, £15 to £35, Tel. 0844 8713024 www.atgtickets.com/york
April 22 to 27, Sheffield Lyceum, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, 7.45pm, mats 2pm and 3pm, £23 to £38, Tel. 0114 2496000 www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk
May 27 to June 1, Leeds Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds, 7.30pm, mats 2.30pm, Tel. 0844 848 2700 www.leedsgrandtheatre.com
For more details visit the official website: www.9to5themusical.co.uk