Southampton Musical Society The Point, Eastleigh Mark Ponsford 20 April 2023
Three female protagonists banding together to defeat the odds: a popular recipe for screen-to-stage adaptation – Waitress, and The Witches Of Eastwick come readily to mind – but for me, no others quite compare to the riotous romp that is 9 To 5, currently to be seen in all its hilarious glory at the Point (until Saturday 22nd), courtesy of Southampton Musical Society. Whether or not you may be familiar with the delicious 1980 film, in which Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton’s collective revenge on their Boss struck an hilarious chord with pretty much anyone who ever worked in an office, in addition to giving us one of the most exuberant and catchy of title songs, this is a show whose ultimate purpose is to give its audience a feelgood night out…and SMS are currently delivering the goods splendidly. That title song was also written by Dolly, who subsequently wrote the complete score for the 2009 stage musical. And what a joy that score is. We effectively get two opening numbers for the price of one – that irresistible title song, and then the upbeat (and sharply observed) scene-setting of ‘Around Here’, in which newbie Judy is introduced to the specifics of Office life. (Apropos the title song: within the first few seconds, there’s an hilarious – some might say slightly naughty sight-gag – no spoilers, but I can’t believe I was the only member of the audience who did a double-take!)
How many of us, at some point in our working lives, have been forced to endure the indignity of working for a truly Bad Boss? (Answers on a postcard, please!) Herein lies the initial premise of 9 To 5, and Bad Bosses don’t come much worse than the appalling Franklin Hart, Jr, a sexist, unfaithful (among other things) monster… but lest any more impressionable souls start clutching their pearls at that thought, let’s remember (not that we’re given much chance to forget) that this is a Musical Comedy, in which this frightful man is depicted in such a way as to make him the Villain we love to hate – and that’s a major part of the fun. Rory Blincow’s performance ticks all the boxes, and he’s hilarious, continually underestimating the three employees who eventually conspire against him, until it’s too late.
Those three ladies are brought vibrantly to life by three terrific performers: Carrie Bellett as Violet, whose tragic back-story has made her all the stronger – and all the more appealing. Ellen Goggin as Doralee, whose singing is one of the highlights in a production with many highlights; and Angharad Morgan as Judy, whose transition from shrinking violet to brave independence is captivating, not least in her delivery of the 11.00 o’clock number ‘Get Out And Stay Out’, another standout moment in Dolly Parton’s score.
Among a strong supporting cast, Suzie Dove’s performance as Roz, the lovelorn (for most of the time) secretary is an absolute hoot – this is one smashing comedienne at work; and Harry Taylor, as Joe, continues to prove himself an actor of huge and accomplished versatility.
Jon Chalkley’s direction is pacey and inventive, and Sarah Earnshaw’s choreography is a treat in itself, while Gem Tunley’s Musical Direction brings its own full-on life and fizz to the show. That’s also a first-rate band she’s working with, and their exuberant music-making is in itself another highlight of this hugely enjoyable production. The setting is basic but very effective, and the many scene changes are slick and well-drilled, while the overall lighting is equally effective (although I did find the occasional moving floor projections a slight distraction from the action at moments). But it’s a hugely enjoyable night out, and the continual full-on cheers from the audience at the curtain routine were no less than the company deserved. There are still tickets available for the remaining performances, but don’t leave it too long. The Point’s reputation for housing first-class shows by leading local societies is well-established, and SMS are currently serving up another solid addition to the list. What a way to make a livin’… and what a great way to spend an evening.