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REVIEW: 9 to 5 (LWMS, Royal Spa Centre)

9 To 5 review - Local talent dazzles in Dolly Parton musical on Leamington stage

Peter Ormerod reviews 9 to 5 The Musical, presented by Leamington & Warwick Musical Society at the Spa Centre, Leamington

There are better ways to make a living, but working 9 to 5 might just be that bit more bearable if every day ended with a show like this.

Leamington & Warwick Musical Society’s annual production at the Spa Centre has been a highlight of the local theatre scene for years. This time, the show itself may not be to everyone’s taste, but the performances surely will be.

9 to 5 The Musical is based on the 1980 film, and is in some ways an unsparing account of office culture in New York and elsewhere – appalling sexism and all. The boss, Franklin Hart Jr, is gross, lairy and leering, and seemingly all-powerful. But his female staff – three of them in particular – are wise to his ways, and plot his comeuppance. The story is cajoled on its way by Dolly Parton’s songs; country twangs are always close by, but the score is impressively varied.

The show has had various incarnations since opening on Broadway in 2009, and there remains a sense of uncertainty about it, as if it has never quite been nailed. By and large, individual scenes work well, but the whole is a rather curious experience. It does not always seem to know whether it is an outright fantastical farce, or a grim portrayal of bigotry and exploitation. The result is a show that is neither quite as funny nor as hard-hitting as it might be, with some confusion among the audience about how to react.

There are other problems too. The first half is somewhat overloaded, the second half a bit underweight. Much of the swearing seems unnecessary, and there are few too many straightforwardly bad lines and weak jokes. The connection with the audience, on this night at least, was unsteady.

But when it clicked, it really clicked, and this was almost entirely due to the excellence of the performers. Anyone familiar with LWMS productions over the past few years will know this already, but Nelle Cross is a simply outstanding talent: her poise, presence, movement and voice would grace any stage. She plays Doralee Rhodes, Parton’s character in the film, with glamour and grit by the gallon, and is the show’s heartbeat.

There are some newcomers this year, and they acquitted themselves splendidly. Zoe Hobman gave a winning performance as the put-upon Judy Bernly, her voice as sweet and strong as her character. Lizzie Buckingham was the model of potent decency as Violet Newstead. And the night’s true showstopping moment came courtesy of Lucy Maxwell (also the show’s production co-ordinator) as Roz Keith, her riotously ribald performance of Heart to Hart both the funniest and, in its own way, most moving of the show.

Elsewhere, David Walters was impressively monstrous as Hart, and it was good to see the ever-likeable Andrew Thomas back as Joe. The large ensemble were sharp and effective, while Emily Lewis’s choreography added spectacle and swing, and musical director Matt Flint and his musicians did a typically assured and convincingly country-tinged job. And the whole thing is directed, as ever, by Stephen Duckham, with pace, conviction and clarity.

As a show, then, 9 to 5 may have its failings. But as a showcase of the remarkable talent we have, it is yet another success. Memo: promotions all round.

Peter Ormerod, Warwickshire World


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