Come for Dolly, stay for the powerhouse performances
By Kiana Emmett
In 1980’s America, three women work together to dismantle the ‘boys club’ that keeps them confined. Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 is a sobering and inspiring look at female empowerment. Set up by Dolly herself as a world ‘different to our own’ at the start of the show, the misogynistic constraints of the corporate world, and our society as whole, are put on full display in how little we have changed in the time since the original source material. A love letter to the power of female friendship and strength, 9 to 5 is a glittering production full of ‘Hart’.
Led by some of the finest performers in Australian musical theatre, 9 to 5 is strong vocally. Between the dazzling harmonies, both in an ensemble context such as the titular number and between the principles in beautifully intimate moments like ‘I Just Might’.
Marina Prior is a force as Violet, confident and reliable. Although she seemed to have some issues with sound in the opening number, she well and truly made up for it in her jazzy solo number ‘One Of the Boys’, where Violet shares her aspirations to break-through the gender disparity in management.
Erin Clare was dynamic and thoroughly engaging as the Dolly-esque Doralee, bring charisma and heart to the role, as well as a killer set of pipes! Her struggles as an employee encountering harassment in the workplace was strikingly poignant and well delivered.
Casey Donovan was a knockout as Judy, vastly different to other musical theatre roles she has taken on. She excelled in not falling into the trap of treating Judy as the victim, but instead portrayed a strong, independent woman who needed the support and clarity in order to fully realise that independence. Her act two showstopper ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ rightfully had her audience on their feet, both as a result of her moving simultaneous depiction of vulnerability and strength, as well as her otherworldly vocal prowess.
Stealing the show however was the iridescent and magnetic Caroline O’Connor as the secretary Roz Keith, obsessed with her boss. She had the audience hook, line and sinker, following her every move in her limited time on stage. With her impeccable comedic timing, incredible dance capabilities and a brassy musical theatre belt that is second to none, she had the audience in stitches in her big number ‘Heart to Hart’. O’Connor’s characterisation is a masterclass in performance and resulted in an almost instant standing ovation when she came out for her bow.
As the egotistical Franklin Hart Jr. Eddie Perfect is hilarious. He treads the line between unlikability, with outdated lines that bring a hush over the crowd by the sheer audacity of them, and hilarity. He is a great example of an irredeemable character, that has no real full circle, or remorse for his actions. He is uncannily able to present this farce of a human, who is so exaggerated and yet as an audience we can so easily compare him to someone we have met.
The set design and lighting work in tandem to create the true 80’s feel of the piece, with the use of colour in the second act a nod to the change in leadership, and celebration of diversity in the workplace.
The ensemble were a strong unit that were used well in their limited capacity as other office members. The level of talent and commitment to choreography was stunning, and the choreography wowed from the opening number through to the conclusion of the piece whenever used.
9 to 5 guises as a night of fun, and it truly is so much fun, but at its core, this new production is a commentary of the tumultuous social landscape, and the inequality faced by women in the workplace. It also stands to share the power we have to ‘change it’ if we all commit to the creation of the greater good. Come for Dolly, stay for a brilliant night of powerhouse performers, a powerful message and a smile that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
9 to 5 is currently playing at the State Theatre through September 16th. Tickets available at: https://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/2022/musical/9-to-5-the-musical
Photography by David Hooley