Women go to work on Dolly Parton’s 9 To 5

9 To 5

9 To 5 - Credit: Archant

Thirty years ago the film 9 To 5, the tale of three office workers who turn the tables on their sexist boss, was a huge hit, capturing the mood of the times. Now its star Dolly Parton has turned it into a musical and proved that not much has changed. SIMON PARKIN reports.

When Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton burst onto the big screen in 1980 with their ensemble tour-de-force, 9 To 5, depicting the sexist discrimination of the workplace, their message was revolutionary.

The film's call for workplace creches, job shares and flexitime were live battles that had yet to be won, and the character of Frank Hart — the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot boss who they kidnap — would have been familiar to millions of working women.

It would be nice to say we've come a long way in the intervening 30-plus years but these workplace issues are still as relevant today. We've made some strides but many working women still struggle to juggle work and family — and many bosses are still far from understanding.

It's perhaps not a surprise then that Dolly Parton's musical version of the movie, which arrives at Norwich Theatre Royal next week, has been such a success. It's a story of friendship, gossip and revenge of three office workers who turn the tables on their sexist boss still finds resonance.

And as they conspire to take control of the company and learn there's nothing they can't do — even in a man's world — the audience still cheer them on.

If the theme still rings true, so does the taut dialogue, with several of the best one-liners preserved from 1980. The retaliation of Doralee to the sexual advances of her boss invokes a huge cheer from the audience: 'I swear, if you say another word about me, I'll get that gun of mine and I'll change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot!'

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Dolly wrote the music and lyrics for the stage musical ranging from rockabilly to rhythm and blues — not to mention the familiar number one title song.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 2009 and was nominated for 15 Drama Desk Awards, the most ever received by a production in a single year, and four Tony Awards, including Best Score.

The show has been touring the US ever since and after a equally well received debut on the West End it is currently working its way around the UK.

The cast includes Bonnie Langford as nosey executive assistant Roz Keith, played in the movie by Elizabeth Smith; Jackie Clune is Violet Newstead, the Lily Tomlin part in the movie, Natalie Casey is Judy Bernly and Amy Lennox is Doralee Rhodes, the part played by Dolly herself.

As the show arrives in Norwich, Mark Moraghan, best known for his roles in Brookside and Holby City, has taken over the role of the boss Franklyn J Hart — perhaps not quite knowing what's he let himself in for.

Bonnie Langford may not have been to Norfolk for years but to most of us she feels like an old friend.

From her first television appearance on Opportunity Knocks! at the age of six through to her roles on the likes of Just William, Doctor Who and Dancing on Ice, it seems like she has been present in our living rooms for decades.

Bonnie, however, who is now 48, has also carved out a career for herself on stage and has taken up numerous roles in hit musicals over the years.

And she is relishing her role in 9 To 5. 'It is going extremely well — it is a fun, light-hearted show and I think everyone involved is having a really good time,' admits Bonnie, who has been on the road with the musical since October.

'It is a new show, which is great of course. It's always nice to do something brand new and to be able to make a role your own.'

Bonnie, who has only recently come away from playing The Lady of The Lake in the UK tour of Spamalot, is stepping out on stage as office manager Roz who is in love with her the egotistical, hypocritical bigot of an office boss, Franklin J Hart Jr.

'Roz is the only one who likes him. She's besotted with him and she can't tell he doesn't feel anything for her,' she explains. 'She's a character who is absolutely obsessed with writing memos and keeping the office in order – but you shouldn't judge a book by the cover, as there's something more going on inside her.'

The stage version, which is directed by Jeff Calhoun, is making its UK premiere on this tour. 'It is a very big show and not only are we travelling round the country with it but the crew are having to put it on in all these theatres of different shapes and sizes,' says Bonnie. 'There is a lot of work involved and a lot of people required to do it – but they really are working miracles.'

Bonnie has a wealth of musical experience under her belt. As a child, she appeared in the hit musical film Bugsy Malone and fronted The Lena and Bonnie Show.

She made her West End debut at the tender age of seven in a musical adaptation of Gone with the Wind at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the following year she played Baby June in Gypsy opposite Angela Lansbury at the Piccadilly Theatre.

She was in the original London production of Cats and has starred in the likes of The Pirates of Penzance, Peter Pan, Me And My Girl and 42nd Street, among many other West End shows. She also garnered rave reviews for her portrayal of Roxie Hart in Chicago, both on Broadway and on the North American national tour, a role which she had previously played at the Adelphi Theatre and the Cambridge Theatre in London.

'I haven't been to Norfolk for a long time and am looking forward to arriving with 9 To 5. I do hope to get out a bit but sometimes when you are on tour you just ending up seeing an awful lot of cafés between shows,' she jokes.

'But I think the audience at the Theatre Royal will really enjoy the musical. Everyone knows the title song and Dolly has done a great job on the score. People love seeing the women getting their own back against their boss by empowering themselves.'

And she adds: 'This is a show that is fast-paced and quick fire but also has the sweetness of a love story in it. It's not a deep piece but it is a show to be enjoyed.'

t 9 To 5, Norwich Theatre Royal, February 25-March 2, £35-£6.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk



t The musical opened April 30, 2009 on Broadway at the Marquis Theater. It was nominated for 4 Tony Awards, including Best Original Score.

t The original Broadway cast included West Wing actress Allision Janney who won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.

t The musical's director/choreographer, Jeff Calhoun first worked with Dolly Parton as a dancer in the film The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas shortly after the release of the hit movie version of 9 To 5.

t The musical is multiple Grammy Award Winner Dolly Parton's stage musical debut as a composer and lyricist.

t The film's title song garnered Dolly an Oscar nomination and four Grammy Award nominations, winning her the awards for Best Country Song and Best Country Vocal Performance, Female. In addition to appearing on the film soundtrack, it was on her 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs album.

t A few months after Dolly's song and the film, Sheena Easton released a single also called 9 To 5. The Easton song was renamed Morning Train (Nine to Five) to avoid confusion. While Dolly's song features an empowered (if challenged) working woman, Easton's song features a passive, love-struck woman waiting at home for her lover to return.

t The re-vamped UK version of the musical began its first national tour in Manchester last October, which means it has already last longer than the West End production which closed after four months despite good reviews.