As the clocks ring and the workers wake up, Violet, Doralee, and Judy prepare for another mundane and hellish day at work at Consolidated Industries . Judy Bernly is a naïve new employee, a recent divorcee whose husband, Dick, left her for his secretary. On her first day, Judy meets Violet Newstead, the supervisor of her department. Violet trains Judy and introduces her to Franklin Hart, Jr, the arrogant and sexist Head of Department. Judy soon learns that Violet, an employee for over 10 years, has been passed over consistently by those who could promote her.
The buxom Southern belle Doralee Rhodes is Hart's personal secretary. Despite the fact that Doralee is a happily married woman and Hart is married to a very emotionaly troubled woman who is never in town, Hart continually makes inappropriate advances toward Doralee, pushing her patience and tolerance to the limit. Hart has also been lying to his colleagues that he's been sleeping with her anyway, causing office gossip to go wild. The women in the office treat her rudely as a result
Violet is once again passed over for an important promotion, even though her ideas are good enough that Hart passes one off as his own and takes all the praise for it. When Violet protests to Hart that he passed her over for a promotion because she is a woman, Hart bluntly tells her that the company would rather have a man in the position, and Violet storms off on her own, but not before she reveals to Doralee that her “affair” with Hart is common knowledge. Doralee threatens to use her gun on him the next time he makes an indecent proposal. Judy is humiliated by Hart in front of the entire department. All three women go to Violet's house and smoke a joint which Violet has confiscated from her son, fantasizing about the ways in which they would take their revenge.
The next day, Violet accidentally and absent-mindedly puts rat poison in Hart's coffee, mistaking it for an artificial sweetener. Before Hart can drink it, he falls from his unstable desk chair and knocks himself unconscious in his office. He is rushed to hospital. The women discover that Hart wasn't harmed at all, but their discussion about the incident is overheard by Hart's nosy personal assistant, Roz, and Hart tries to use the information to blackmail Doralee into having an affair with him after all. Doralee loses her temper and ropes Hart with telephone wires, and Judy fires on Hart with Doralee's pistol when he escapes his bonds.
With Hart's wife away on a lengthy cruise, the women decide to kidnap Hart and imprison him in his own home until they can somehow get him to co-operate and forget the whole incident. But Hart refuses to listen to them and vows to kill them. Looking for a way to blackmail Hart to keep quiet, Violet discovers that Hart has been embezzling money from Consolidated by illegally selling inventory from a Consolidated-owed warehouse on the black market and keeping the profits for himself. The girls plan on using the information to blackmail Hart to keep quiet from calling the police, but have to tie Hart to his bed to prevent him from leaving the house and exposing them. Violet sends for an order of the warehouse inventories as proof of Hart's embezzlement scheme; because of a computer system change, the office will not send them the invoices for at least four weeks.
The three women work together to make Hart's absence from the office as inconspicuous as possible, and they send Roz to Europe on a ruse to learn a foreign language to keep her away from the office. During the weeks of Hart's confinement, the three ladies take a number of liberties in improving the workplace in ways that they see fit.
One night, Hart almost escapes. Judy, who is staying nights in Hart's house is surprised when her ex-husband shows up at the house after following her there after work and he asks to reconcile with her. But when Hart makes a noise, Judy is forced to restrain him, and her ex-husband, seeing the captive Hart tied up, mistakenly assumes that Judy is having an affair of her own with her boss and leaves, claiming that they are now over and will never get back together.
Hart is accidentally freed when his wife returns early from her cruise, and for three days, he quietly buys back all the items he sold on the black market and puts them back in the Consolidated warehouse.
After taking them to the office to meet with Violet, Hart plays his final card boasting that women never can defeat him. Just when it appears as if he is going to send the girls to jail, a sudden visit from the reclusive and ruthless Chairman of the Board, Russell Tinsworthy interrupts him. To the cold and unfeeling Hart's chargrin, he finally sees that Violet, Judy, and Doralee have made some radical changes in the office while keeping him imprisoned, and it seems as if the sudden surge in productivity has caught the attention of Tinsworthy.
Since the women did all of it under the false approval of Hart, they can take no credit for it, but fate seems to be on their side: Tinsworthy "rewards" Hart for his good work by immediately removing him from his position and sending him to work on a special project in Brazil, much to the amusement and delight of Violet, Doralee, and Judy as now they are free from Hart who will never try to destroy them without destroying his own career
Violet is promoted to Hart's place as vice president of Consolidated, Judy Judy is single and loving it and writes a bestselling book, Life Without Dick. and Doralee moves back to her Tennessee hometown where she became a country music singer. Hart is kidnapped by natives and is never seen or heard from again
Violet Newstead: Jackie Clune
Doralee Rhodes: Amy Lennox
Judy Bernley: Natalie Casey
Franklyn J. Hart: Ben Richards
Roz Keith: Bonnie Langford
Joe: Mark Willshire
Dick/MrTinsworthy: Marlon Moore
Music and lyrics: Dolly Parton
Book: Patricia Resnick
Director/Choreographer: Jeff Calhoun
Scenic Design: Kenneth Foy
Lighting: Ken Billingstone
Huddled in my jumper, coat, gloves and scarf when I should, by rights, have been wearing an 80s power suit with a nipped in waist and lots of padding in the shoulder area, I made my way to Wimbledon, heavily mucoid and streaming sweat from seemingly every pore, shocked to see what a dump Central Wimbledon has become since my last visit. Tatty and boarded up shops line the streets, and fast food wrappers and empty cans blow across the pavements. Where are the Wombles when you really need them? Yes, it seems that the recession has come to town – so what better to troll out and see than a musical about when times were so good that even the humblest secretary had a bulging filofax (mine had a red leather cover with a blue strap fastened by a natty yellow press stud) and mobile phones were so big they could be used to prop open a door. Nouvelle cuisine was just about to hit us, proving beyond all doubt that lunch was for wimps, and Reagan, Thatcher and Gordon Gekko were extolling the virtues of greed. Hair was big, the credit was unlimited, the working hours punishing but the good times were starting to roll. Cue the music!
Wimbledon Theatre seems to be carving itself out quite a nice niche in naff. So it seemed inevitable that, for a few short nights, it would become a Temple to Dolly. And my, did the audience come in their droves. Coach parties of Women of a Certain Age, well tanked up and ready to tell their boss where to shove his Tippex, along with quite a few Gentlemen of a Certain Age who had probably spent at least 10 minutes earlier that evening gyrating in front of the mirror holding a hairbrush and pretending to be Doralee Rhodes. The Chestily-Endowed one actually “appears” in the show to narrate, thanks to the wonders of technology – and as soon as she did, the whoops were so loud that several decades of dust fell off the proscenium arch’s reclining figures and I swear that at least one bat was dislodged from the ceiling. I do wish Wimbledon’s management would spend a bit more on cleaning – the entire place feels grubby and smells a bit like your grandma’s front room. Not that most people in the audience seemed to care. If the lyrics of the opening number had suddenly descended from the flies on a screen, I swear that people would have been ripping up the seats in their enthusiasm to join in. Everyone (save a few obviously unwilling husbands) seemed out for a good time. And, in the main, what people wanted was more or less what they got – a penny plain, tuppence coloured night of feel good entertainment. No Brechtian angst, no Chekovian misery, no soul-searching Ibsen – Dolly is in town! 9 to 5 is unsophisticated, brash, more than a little cheesy – but hey, bread and circuses, right?
In the main, the musical numbers aren’t all that great, even though they were penned by the Chestily-Endowed one, and I see from the Internewt that a lot of them don’t seem to have made it on the journey over from Broadway – several of them have been cut, including great swathes of the “dream sequence” numbers. Apart from the theme tune, not a single one can I hum a snatch of a couple of weeks afterwards. But they were delivered well enough for everyone to enjoy them – save one solo from Natalie Casey which was strangely underpowered and rather wobbly all the way through. Bonnie Langford (an exact contemporary of Him Indoors – one of them can don fishnets, suspenders and a basque and bring the show to a total halt by doing the splits upside down on a sofa while belting out a number, and it ain’t Him Indoors, although personally I wouldn’t put it past him to have a go) brought the show to a total halt by doing the splits upside down on a sofa while belting out a number and damn I just wrote myself into a corner didn’t I? Slightly scarily, the Langford Clan seem to be challenging the Redgraves for the title of Greatest Theatrical Dynasty – not only does Ms. Langford boast Summer Strallen and Scarlett Strallen as her kin but there’s another one in the chorus of this show, Sasi Strallen. Watch out for the forthcoming debuts of Samantha Strallen, Sarah Strallen, September Strallen, Singalong Strallen, their adopted sister from the Far East Sushi Strallen and their only brother Derek.
Auntie Bonnie makes the best of a “nothing” part that she can (although her solo is a gift and rightly stops the show, Amy Lennox makes a game stab at being Dolly Parton but doesn’t quite manage to bring it off, Ben Richards isn’t quite old enough to play Franklyn J. Hart - I forgive him because he’s got a buff bod and a hairy chest (neither of which unfortunately one gets to see until 2 minutes before the final curtain - but the acting honours are walked away with in their entirety by Jackie Clune as Violet Newstead, who plays the Lily Tomlin role better than Lily Tomlin played it in the film. As mentioned above, Dolly herself appears high above the stage, peering out from the face of an office clock and providing the role of narrator/greek chorus/fairy godmother, although until the colour levels were worked out, she looked so green that she looks like the lovechild of Kermit the Frog and Elphaba. I didn’t hear much of what she said because every time she popped up like the Genie of the Clock, she was completely drowned out by whooping.
A truly frightening amount of this show is clicktracked – pre-recorded and played as backing – mostly for the ensemble numbers, when there are 20 people on stage but apparently 60 people singing, which is a rotten cheat. Its glaringly obvious that fraud is being perpetrated when there are only principals on stage but still apparently 60 people belting out at full throttle. This is lazy costcutting and unfortunately more and more prevalent in the theatre, as is having a tiny orchestra sweating away in the pit playing 4 instruments each. Yes, having an electronic keyboard saves you from having to put an ad in The Stage looking for a sousaphone player, a second trombone and someone to who can play the harmonica and help sell ice-creams in the interval, but its putting people in the profession out of work, as is clicktracking. Both practices should be frowned upon, as should charging people £3 for a bottle of lukewarm water. Theatre management take note, and dust your allegorical figures please, Wimbledon.
This is not sophisticated entertainment in any way, shape or form. The unlikely “plot” is full of holes and the characters paper-thin. It is unashamedly trashy, no-brain, feel-good entertainment, perfect for a girl’s night out with the boys, even though comparing it with clips from the original Broadway production, a lot of bits and pieces seem to have been thrown overboard with the musical numbers en route across the Atlantic. Interestingly, there are some quite thought-provoking and intelligent articles in the programme, although I suspect most of the audience will be reading Dolly Parton’s three-page biography on the train home. As the production is going on tour, overbearing bosses should make sure that they employ a Taster to check their coffee for rat poison if any of their staff are going to see the show.