Before the titular, double-Grammy-awarded opening number begins, we are exposed to a soundscape of cheesy 80s commercials for domestic products that serve to highlight some of the many pressures women are put under.
“A peg above what you’d expect from a semi-professional musical theatre company”
These set the scene for the money-fuelled, ambitious, misogynistic environment of middle-class America in the 1980s and also he tone of this production, with its dark undercurrent of social commentary, dressed up in shiny charisma and million-dollar smiles. This is just one of the imaginative ideas co-directors Helen Petrovna and David Barrett use to bring the show to life for us today, in this witty, extravagant production.
First staged in LA in 2009, 9 to 5 is a musical adaptation of the 1980 film of the same name, starring Dolly Parton and written by Patricia Resnick. Parton returned to write all sixteen original songs, with book by Resnick. The cult-classic film was first conceived by its star actor Jane Fonda, who wanted to make a film that would show that “you can run an office without a boss, but you can’t run an office without the secretaries”.
All members of the Cambridge Operatic Society are unwaveringly loyal to the film’s essence, and the spirit of musical theatre. They explode onto stage for the big opening number, with every one of the 21-strong cast fully committed. The voices and American accents are variable, but this production has it where it counts: though Dolly Parton’s portrayal of her is a tough act to follow, Vikki Jones’ Doralee does not disappoint, with a fantastic singing voice and a witty, powerful performance. Her co-stars Emma Vieceli and Ellie Baldwin (as Violet and Judy) are also strong, and between the three of them they keep a frenetic energy pumping throughout the show.
But Katie Emma McArthur stands out in the supporting cast as Roz, the sycophantic assistant to the women’s bigoted boss Mr Hart (Rodger Lloyd). She shines especially bright in her number Heart to Hart, which is a camp, rib-tickling highlight of the show. The variety and intelligence of Petrovna and Barretts choreography, along with dynamic set design, and costumes full of personality, make for some entertaining and occasionally extraordinary numbers.
There is a sense that this production is fuelled by a pervasive and infectious passion. In the interval, a screen shows messages by people recounting the women in their lives they find inspiring. Then, during the curtain call, it shows the names of every single cast member, followed by photos of their giddy smiles in rehearsals.
This labour of love, with its feminist joy, infectious melodies and attention to detail, hits the mark for Dolly and musical-fans alike, and sets itself a peg above what you might expect from a semi-professional musical theatre company.
“A Joyous Ode to Empowerment: 9 to 5 The Musical at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.“
The Cambridge Operatic Society’s recent production of 9 to 5: The Musical, based on the book by Patricia Resnick, with songs and lyrics by Dolly Parton, is a delightful and empowering theatrical experience at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.
The audience are transported into the vibrant world of the late ’70s, a time when office dynamics were shifting, and women were beginning to demand their rightful place in the corporate landscape. The show cleverly balances humour, heart, and a powerful message of female empowerment, capturing the essence of the original 1980 film that inspired it.
One of the standout elements of the production was the stellar casting by the Cambridge Operatic Society. The three leading ladies, Violet (played by Emma Vieceli), Judy (played by Ellie Baldwin), and Doralee (played by Vikki Jones), delivered performances that were both hilarious and heart-warming. Their chemistry was palpable, creating a dynamic trio that effortlessly carried the show from start to finish.
It was interesting to witness the audience’s reaction to Rodger Lloyd’s portrayal of the dastardly Franklin, which was creepily superb with excellent comic timing. However, instead of applause, I almost felt he was going to get booed, such was the level of revulsion he stirred up!
The ensemble cast, composed of the talented members of the Cambridge Operatic Society, showcased impressive vocal prowess and energetic dance numbers that brought the infectious spirit of Dolly Parton’s music to life. The choreography, executed with precision and flair, added a visual feast to the already engaging narrative.
Dolly Parton’s music is, without a doubt, the soul of the production. The score, was flawlessly performed by the live orchestra, enhancing the overall theatrical experience. The titular song, “9 to 5,” had the audience tapping their feet and humming along, a testament to the timeless appeal of Parton’s compositions.
While 9 to 5 The Musical provides ample opportunities for laughter and entertainment, it doesn’t shy away from addressing serious issues such as workplace inequality and sexism. The script’s witty dialogue, coupled with the charismatic delivery of the cast, struck a perfect balance between humour and social commentary.
In conclusion, the Cambridge Operatic Society’s rendition of 9 to 5 The Musical at the Cambridge Arts Theatre was a resounding success. The stellar performances, vibrant production design, and the timeless appeal of Dolly Parton’s music combined to create a theatrical experience that was both uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable. The production not only pays homage to the source material but also adds a contemporary flair, making it a must-see for audiences of all ages. The audience gave the Cambridge Operatic Society a very warm welcome at Cambridge Arts and tonight’s performance had many members of the audience on their feet giving them a very well-deserved standing ovation.
Following in the footsteps of an award-winning musical, a cult-classic film, and the music of the legend that is Dolly Parton, Cambridge Operatic Society’s 9 to 5 had some big stilettos to fill. Not to worry though – with its high energy, high fun and high camp, it certainly delivered. The musical centres on three women:, cynical veteran of the workplace Violet (Emma Vieceli), naive but tough Judy, and the perky, Dolly-esque Doralee (Vikki Jones), who struggle with their daily ‘9 to 5’ jobs under their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical, bigot” of a boss, Franklin Hart Junior (Rodger Llloyd). Hijinks ensue when they accidentally kidnap him, but they improve the quality of life for everyone in their office.
While there were some standout individual performances – notably Ellie Baldwin’s Judy telling her aptly-named ex-husband Dick (Andrew Ruddick) exactly what she thinks of him in ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ – it was the consistent performances of the ensemble who really made the show. The office scenes in particular constantly featured a bustling, animated background, which brought to life the non-stop atmosphere of the daily corporate toil, making the shift to the welcoming, inclusive workplace in the second act more effective. The toe-tapping chorus numbers never failed to boost the energy in the theatre, especially when opening and closing each act. As the three lead women fantasise about murdering their boss, moving through a 1920s nightclub scene, a line-dancing rodeo, and a murderous take on a fairytale, the ensemble and their quick costume changes provide some of the most comical and visually impressive parts of the show.
“The toe-tapping chorus numbers never failed to boost the energy in the theatre”
A particularly striking element was found in the show’s antagonist, Hart; simultaneously a pantomime villain, a 1970s stereotype, and an unnervingly contemporary-relevant representation of a CEO. The show as a whole reflects this theme, with radio adverts and costuming firmly setting the period as the ’70s, but the struggles around childcare at work, equal pay, and being passed over for promotions in favour of male colleagues could just as easily happen today. In fact, directors Helen Petrovna and David Barrett lamented that “there’s not been a massive amount of progress in workplace equity for women and marginalised groups.”
“There are some moments in the show that are a satisfying opposition to the general bigotry of the ’70s workplace”
The role of Hart probably gets harder to direct and portray as time goes on: the Hart of the 1980 movie was repugnant, but attitudes of the time were such that his sexism could still be played for laughs. In 2024, the same beats, including asking Doralee to find a file from a high shelf so he can take photos up her dress made my skin crawl. Of course, this makes his comeuppance all the more rewarding to watch, but the audience first has to endure the excruciating scenes of inappropriate behaviour and harassment. To combat this, there are some moments in the show that are a satisfying opposition to the general bigotry of the ’70s workplace. Hart’s administrative assistant, Roz, played hilariously by Katie Emma McArthur, is given her own happy ending, overcoming her infatuation with Hart and replacing it with a fulfilling relationship with his wife. Rather than finding a new husband, Judy stays single and publishes her successful memoir, ‘Life without Dick.’ In this version, the directors played heavily into the lesbian subtext with Judy staring directly at Doralee’s boobs for the entirety of their very first interaction. And Doralee has her applause-worthy line to her boss: “I’ll turn you from a rooster into a hen with one shot.”
There were a few lighting and microphone errors, meaning some of the lines were lost, and the American accents slipped in a few places, occasionally sounding more Sidge site than San Francisco. Nonetheless, the production was engaging and entertaining throughout, and certainly had more than one person singing ‘9 to 5’ down King’s Parade on the way home. What a way to make a livin’.
9 to 5, based on the film of the same name, follows the story of three women in a 1970s office battling against the ingrained everyday 70s sexism (men run the company; women make their coffee, work in typing pools and are overlooked for promotion) that forms their daily lives.
Emma Vieceli gives a completely convincing, fully rounded performance as Violet, the supervisor, at turns feisty and at others showing her character’s deep insecurities, particularly in a sub-plot romance with Micheal Broom’s wholesome Joe, the accountant. Her warm vocals and instantly likeable portrayal set the tone for the rest of this high-quality production.
Judy, the new, inexperienced employee develops from a nervous out-of-towner to a confident, integral part of the trio, a fully believable journey in the skilled hands of Ellie Baldwin.
Vikki Jones, meanwhile, brings real depth to Doralee (the Dolly Parton part). Having mastered the irrepressible giggle and Tennessee accent with aplomb, she brings moments of real pathos such as in the beautifully sung Backwoods Barbie to which she brings an unexpected twist.
Roger Lloyd is a suitably odious Frankin Hart, the office boss, whilst Katie McArthur’s Roz, his infatuated personal assistant, is glorious in her out-of-the blue pole-dancing number, Heart to Hart.
The show is an ideal company piece, with numerous small cameos for CaOS’s rich and deep pool of talent, allowing superb choreography from co-directors Helen Petrovna (also responsible for the excellent video projections) and David Barrett. The high level of energy set in the opening number was maintained all the time the lights were on, though it dropped a little through the frequent use of blackouts to cover scene changes. Transitions may have worked better on occasions. No such problem seemed to affect the costume department, however: rarely can I remember seeing such deft changes at seemingly impossible speed.
The slick 11-piece band directed by Jennifer Edmonds underpinned the entire piece and left the audience dancing in the aisles at the conclusion of a thoroughly entertaining evening.