REVIEW: 9 to 5 – The Island Savoyards

Did you know the parking meter was invented in 1935?

Consolidated Industrials office newcomer Judy Bernly shares trivia when she’s nervous, and her opening joke about needing an hour to park – particularly apt for the packed Shanklin Theatre audience! – set the tone for the evening: feel-good and funny, 9 to 5: The Musical is based on the 1980 hit comedy film of the same name, starring Dolly Parton.

It centres around three women: Judy Bernley, Violet Newstead and Doralee Rhodes, who all work at Consolidated Industries, a business run by a ‘sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot’ by the name of Franklin Hart Jr.

Each woman is facing her own trials and tribulations, both in and out of the workplace, and eventually they all – understandably – snap, taking matters into their own hands to fix life for themselves and their co-workers at Consolidated Industries.

The Island Savoyards are well-known for their strong ensemble – the wall of sound that hits the back of the theatre in a wash of harmonies – and the ensemble of 9 to 5: The Musical were unequivocally outstanding.  ‘Shine Like the Sun’ and ‘Change It’, in particular, cranked up the feel-good factor and gave an ensemble packed with talent the chance to, well, shine like the sun!

But the track that stuck most memorably was not a big, ballsy group number, it was Judy Bernly’s moment of resolution, when she told ex-husband Dick – played with suitable sleaze (and an excellent ‘tache!) by Cliff Dutton – where to go. Laura Groves’ rendition of ‘Get Out and Stay Out’: the balance between the softly-spoken Judy of Act I and the newly back-boned Judy of Act II was perfect, and Laura’s vocals were simply gorgeous. It was a stand-out moment in an already brilliant performance by Laura, whose nervy, bird-like Judy was endearing from the moment she broke the Xerox machine to the moment she unveiled her memoir!

Violet Newstead was played with great comic ability by Claire Cronin. With strong vocals and a real command of the on-stage office, she had the audience on side from the get-go, willing her to get her (sadly not to be) promotion. Her joyous version of ‘Potion Notion’ was a hit with the audience, and her speech on the ‘little guy’ towards the end of the show is one that will strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt overworked, overlooked or underappreciated.

At this point, it would be only right to mention the turns of Nathan Stubbings and Rob Bingham as Josh and Joe respectively. Nathan as Josh, Violet’s teenage son, gave a great performance and his relationship with Claire as Violet was very sweet indeed. Rob, meanwhile, wowed the audience as Joe with his beautiful vocals in the duet ‘Let Love Grow’, in which he finally convinces Violet to go on a date with him.

But what to say about Rosie Sales as Doralee Rhodes? – It’s difficult to know where to start, for all the right reasons. Her Texan accent was flawless, her performance packed with energy and vibrancy. Whether worrying about being liked at work with husband Dwayne – played by Chesney Checkley-Hill with a warmth that complemented Rosie’s performance – or chasing Franklin Hart Jr around an office, Rosie expertly trod the fine line between comedy and heart. In fact, and perhaps this is a form of Country & Western blasphemy, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that her portrayal of Doralee was more enjoyable than Dolly Parton’s original! An absolutely perfect fit for the role, it’s impossible to ignore Rosie on stage, whether she’s in the foreground or the background: she just oozes stage presence.

The man making life a misery for all three women was Franklin Hart Jr, and hopefully Steve Jones will take it as a compliment to see his performance described as skin-crawling and lecherous! From his treatment of the ladies in the office to his blatant desire to sleep with Doralee, from his brushing aside of wife Missy (Sharon Lock) to his claiming of other people’s achievements as his own, his comeuppance – when it finally came – was hard-earned and richly deserved!

Alongside him, comic powerhouse Andee Lowthion’s portrayal of office brown-noser Roz Keith, and particularly her act-stealing number ‘Heart to Hart’, was utterly hilarious. Her facial expressions were to die for and every word, be it spoken or sung, was clear as a bell from start to finish. Tres bien, Madmoiselle!

Strong performances came, too, from those featured in smaller supporting roles both inside the office and out of it, with featured roles going to Jake Alabaster, Harley Mackness, Amanda Gregory (and her trusty hip flask!), Lauren Odell, Sharon Lock, Marie Scott and Paul Stevens (whose ‘Mr Tinsworthy’ beard deserves a special mention!).

Kudos must also be given to all who assisted with the show in an off-stage capacity! It can be all too easy to review a show and neglect to mention the production team, so congratulations to all behind the scenes on a sterling job. The show was well-directed and choreographed, and the band was top notch.

A final special mention must be made to one critter in particular, whose performance, however brief, had more than one person asking on the way out: ‘who on earth was wearing the badger suit?’ Whoever they were, congratulations – making a giant badger suit, or indeed a mouse or a squirrel, look expressive is no mean feat!

Just one minor point would be that the sound balance took a while to settle, and sadly this made most of the solo lines in famous opening number ‘9 to 5’ and a couple of the numbers immediately following it, even from those sporting microphones, very difficult to hear!

That aside, the show as a whole was an enjoyable and colourful country-inspired romp with plenty of toe-tapping tunes. But for all its fun and (slightly surreal) frolics, 9 to 5: The Musical carried through it a strong message of equality, determination, respect and resilience that is as important now as it was in 1980. Congratulations to all.

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