9 to 5: The Musical

Rating: 5

By Richard Barber

In the 1980 hit film, it was Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. Now it’s Caroline Sheen (stepping in for an injured Louise Redknapp), Amber Davies and Natalie McQueen playing the three secretaries who rebel against their chauvinist pig of a boss, Franklin Hart Jr (Brian Conley), and change office life forever.

And it’s fabulous – precision-tooled, polished popular entertainment at its very best. It’s also funny as hell, with a timelessly witty book by Patricia Resnick, who chooses not to update the action; a sensible decision since modern technology – emails, texts and the like – would scupper the girls’ fiendish plot in one bat of a heavily mascara’d eye. 

It works very well as a stage musical, too, with lyrics and songs by Dolly herself, who pops up on video screen to greet the audience, sing a snatch of the title number and generally keep us entertained at various points throughout the show.

Under Jeff Calhoun’s faultless direction and Andrew Hilton’s nifty baton, and amid the super-slick sets from designer Tom Rogers, the mounting madness hurtles along to the point where Conley, in horribly unsubtle bondage gear, has been hoisted above his own double bed to swing from the ceiling on a couple of sturdy wires. It would have been so easy to have overplayed this part but Conley nails it from the off. Left swinging above the stage as the audience troops out for refreshment at the interval, he shouts: ‘Take a photograph and I’ll sue!’ It is a sublimely entertaining performance, which he clearly enjoys just as much as we do.

He is matched by the peerless Bonnie Langford, the only woman at Consolidated Industries who has the hots for her boss. Langford has long been what the Americans call a Triple Threat in that she can sing, dance and act. Her Act One solo, Heart To Hart, brings the house down, but then there’s not a single moment when she isn’t perfectly in character, not one wasted or superfluous gesture.

The three leads are also well cast so that you’re quickly rooting for them as they hatch and then execute their kidnap plot. 

This, then, is family entertainment of the highest order, suitable for anyone from nine to 90. If you haven’t yet caught up with it, book today. And if you have, go again!

Until 31 August at The Savoy Theatre,  London WC2R: 0844-871 7687, www.9to5themusical.co.uk