Knighton Park Amateur Operatic Society are redefining the working day.
Colin Higgins' 1980 office comedy, 9 to 5, was the perfect feminist vehicle for Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. Co-written by Patricia Resnick, in some ways it was a film far ahead of its time, and in others, it was long overdue. It's endured - in no small part - thanks to Parton's iconic theme song.
This musical - written by Parton and Resnick - delivers a revamp to the (regrettably) ageless story. Three very different women who share one workplace unite to take down their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocrite of a boss, Mr Hart, and his administrative assistant/office spy, Roz. Together, Violet, Doralee and Judy form a bond and friendship that transforms a company.
A funny, talented, and smart businesswoman, it's very difficult to ignore Dolly Parton as an inspirational figure. Her work to improve children's lives alone is often unseen as she doesn't use it for self-publicity. Her influence on this musical is felt throughout - indeed, she even appears on screen to bookend the show. It has her heart, humour, and spirit.
KPAOS invited Niche to The Little Theatre to watch the dress rehearsal ahead of opening night. This always comes with a few entirely forgivable teething issues (lighting queues that are yet to be fully set or malfunctioning mics that need replacing) that are easy to overlook and see the show beneath.
I do have one small criticism of the production, which I'm choosing to start with, as A) it happens pre-show, and B) much like the show itself, I want to end on all the positive notes.
When you enter the auditorium, there is no set on stage as most of the scenery is provided by projection. This feels like a real shame, as it costs us that moment of theatre magic when you see the stage for the first time, and get a taste of the wonder that's about to unfold.
Fortunately, once the show gets going that feeling doesn't last long, with the lighting, desks and other office furniture used to immerse you in 1979, but for that initial wow-factor, you'd expect a Dolly Parton-written musical to be steeped in glitz and glamour (and rhinestones).
With that out of the way, we can talk about the performances. The show is built around five characters: Violet (Nicole Collins), Doralee (Rosie Chalmers), Judy (Kerry Smith), Mr Hart (Joshua J Knott) and Roz (Charlotte Brown), who we will get to shortly.
Director Steven Duguid has given each of these performers their moment(s) to shine, never overwhelming the stage with spectacle for the sake of spectacle - instead, it produces a surprisingly intimate show, where you feel like you've made a connection with each of the characters in turn. It's really quite lovely - you care about each of them without feeling like you've been made to.
There's also great work being done by the supporting characters and ensemble, all elevating the story and acting as foils to the leads. Lisa Heath's choreography is used to great effect - it's not a musical for massive dance sequences, but what there is carries weight, suits the characters, and adds to the heart and soul of the piece.
The first of our three heroes is Nicole Collins' Violet Newstead. Repeatedly overlooked for promotion, despite being the most capable employee at Consolidated Industries, and having trained many of the people (men) whose careers have outpaced her own. Collins is the heart of the show, depicting Violet's professional frustration with honesty and realism, while never seeming unjustified or unlikeable.
Collins is also the focus of what feels like the show's most overt dance sequence, joined on stage by the talents of Jade Afflick-Goodall and Boo Cooper, for a jazz-inspired song "One of the Boys".
Taking on the biggest character challenge of the show is Rosie Chalmers as Doralee Rhodes.
Essentially tasked with the unenviable job of playing Dolly Parton herself, Chalmers dives in with both feet, and does so brilliantly. The accent alone is flawless, when it could so easily slip into parody or inconsistency. This goes for all the leads, with no hint of Britishness slipping through.
Doralee represents an experience that Dolly herself has likely encountered many times - being underestimated on account of her looks. Chalmers plays the role with a steel which soon makes it clear that Doralee is a force to be reckoned with, whilst keeping all of the Parton-esque charm and charisma.
From line dancing to country singing, this is a complete performance from Chalmers.
Kerry Smith is a revelation as Judy Bernly, the recently separated housewife taking her first steps into a bigger world. The character's journey to self-confidence and self-actualisation feels like a love letter to anyone that's unexpectedly found themselves thrust into a new life they weren't prepared for, yet thrived.
Proving she's been long overdue this graduation from the ensemble, Smith shines in the role, ably landing several of the shows funniest lines, and with a vocal power and purity that will drop your jaw.
Judy's character experiences the biggest growth arc of our three leads, and Smith's acting is up to the challenge, depicting Judy's evolution from shy, bambi-esque new starter, to fantasy femme fatale, to assured office leader.
More lead roles are surely in Smith's future.
It feels odd to compliment someone for being a believable chauvinist, but to be fair to Joshua J Knott, he does play an excellent villain!
His Frank Hart has no redeeming characteristics - slimy, cowardly, duplicitous, sexist, and willing to climb over others to get to the top. Knott is the perfect pantomime baddie, with the character unlikeable enough to hate, and the actor game enough to ensure he gets an impactful comeuppance.
His vocal and dance performances are also very accomplished, playing off our heroes superbly, and giving them space to shine.
Charlotte Brown plays Roz Keith, Hart's Administrative Assistant and office spy. Every villain needs a good henchman to do their dirty work, and Brown makes Roz deliciously unlikeable. While Hart is representative of the systemic obstacles that impede our heroes, Roz is a more personal enemy; regularly betraying the sisterhood over her infatuation with a/"the" man.
Despite all this, Brown's portrayal is ultimately sympathetic, and you do feel bad for Roz by the end. Like the other women, she's trapped by circumstance, desperate for something the world is keeping from her.
Brown also performs two numbers completely solo, yet easily fills the stage with her voice and presence. Her confidence and comfort, unmissable.
Overall, 9 to 5 is a really uplifting, fun musical that will send you out of the theatre happy. While the title song is the one you'll go in humming, there's plenty more you'll walk out with, including "Shine Like The Sun", "Get Out and Stay Out", and "Change It", to name but a few.
It's enough to make you leave the theatre and look up flights to Dollywood.
KPAOS's production of 9 to 5: The Musical is at The Little Theatre, November 22-26, 2022.
Tickets are available from the theatre's box office (0116 255 1302) and website.