9 to 5 – Edinburgh Playhouse

Music & Lyrics by Dolly Parton

Book by Patricia Resnick

Directed by Jeff Calhoun

Let’s just get something straight: too few of us actually enjoy our jobs. Certainly not those early mornings, hiding in the bathroom to play on our phones, avoiding awkward co-workers and superfluous bosses who seem to have obtained their status by what little they have hiding in their trousers. Well, we’ve had enough, you’ve had enough, and sensational matriarch of Country Dolly Parton, has had enough.

Adapted from the 1980 film of the same name, Patricia Resnick’s 9 to 5 sees a trio of women living out their careers under the thumb of a lazy, sexist CEO as they seem to be doing all of the real work. Divorced, widowed and misunderstood Judy, Violet and Doraleen become a force to reckon after ‘accidentally’ poisoning, hogtying and temporarily removing their boss from the picture. To the score and lyrics of Parton, this touring production seeks to revitalise all us weary workers with a dose of energy. 

A vastly capable deputy, with Louise Redknapp unwell, Laura Tyrer takes on the reigns for the confident, but vastly underappreciated Violet Newstead, who like one may suspect, is running the company in the absence of any real input from CEO and serial misogynist Franklin Hart Jnr, played by Sean Needham. Strong, but without resorting to the misconception of emotionless, Tyrer carries the role well, but it’s underwritten, with that her angle of fair pay, equal opportunities and positions for women is as relevant as it was in the eighties – a resounding cheer echoing as she has had enough.

From the Island to the big city, Amber Davies’ talent for musical theatre is put to use in her performances of Judy. Patience is a virtue, her solo number Get Out and Stay Out may not occur until the second act, but it cements Davies as a headliner with star-draw and silences any neigh sayers to the performer’s original television background. Arguably a simple role, Judy’s mousier attitude can be lost against Doralee’s personality or Violet’s strong presence, but Davies manages to hold her own with ease.

This brings us to our final leading lady, the ‘blonde bombshell’ of the trio, Doralee. An epitome of deceptive appearances, Georgina Castle’s not-so-subtle take on Parton’s cinematic counterpart is leaps above others on the stage. Her dedication to volatile comedy is inspiring, stripping off the shackles of a stereotypical character, driving a development which goes beyond what one would expect, but still stays in the realms of superfluous. Doralee’s interest lies not in her appearance, but in her sweet manner, country tones and physical comedy. Her control is without question, the most drawing on stage, indeed it’s rather criminal Castle fails to receive top billing despite being the most accomplished of the leads, and a fine tribute to Parton.

Parton’s music makes for the occasional stand-out number, striking a chord with the room, but on the whole many of the numbers feel repetitious, and dare we say, quite mundane. Vocally, there isn’t any particular issue, but the notion to tune out can strike, inducing some mindless, if cheerful, head bobs as you listen more to the composition than the lyrics.

Riding on a risqué note of hilarity of, Act two is a bitter-sweet turn. With notions of standout performances from the aforementioned Davies, it’s a star-vehicle of a second act, serving to heighten our performer’s roles, without emphasizing plot. Things are too tidy and packed a touch neatly, leading to less slapstick or oomph than the previous act.

Indeed, an admirable quality of 9to5 is the apparent lack of rigorous ageing, a film centring on sexism and female empowerment is still a relevant text, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s comedic nature has moved along with it. What stands above anything for this production is its humour, it’s quick-fire, intense assault of the funny bone – visual gags, obvious gags, satirical humour and lashing upon lashing of dumps upon Trump. It recognises that with a weaker storyline, it’s strength is reliant on cast and entertainment, and two performers extensively delivering the laughs are; Sean Needham and Lucinda Lawrence.

Needham is every sleazy man who said hello to you with his eyes, before his words. Yet, good lord is this an impressive performance in slapstick. He takes everything on the chin, or indeed, the balls. His timing, while stretching in song routines is no less precise in delivery, and while he may reject the advances of Roz, Lawrence’s performance of Heart to Heart deserves every putrid ounce of sultry praise. Carrying a number which could land flat on its face, Lawrence balances vocal range with physicality, and quick costume changes courtesy of Lisa Steven’s choreography.

Well good golly Miss Dolly, this is certainly a turn-up for the books. Perhaps the only time you will want to stay past your shift’s end, don’t bother clocking out – ignore the world out there, soak in the golden radiance of Tom Rogers design work, as 9 to 5 answers your prayers when work suddenly becomes rather nifty.

9 to 5 runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until November 16th: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/9-to-5-the-musical/edinburgh-playhouse/

Photo credit – Craig Sugden

The King and I – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Music by Richard Rodgers

Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Based upon Margaret Landon’s Anna And The King

Directed by Bartlett Sher

As the shimmers of lustrous gold part, a steamboat trundles into view. This behemoth set-piece, simple though effective, offers an immediate scale to The King and I. Charged as the new teacher to the children of the King of Siam, or at least those children in favour, Anna docks in a distant land, where customs are not the norm for her English ways. Then again, neither are her behaviours for the residents of the Kingdom. A foundation in the musical theatre pantheon, The King and I is a staple of the industry. Borrowing, perhaps too closely, from the 1956 film starring iconic actor Yul Brinner, Bartlett Sher’s The King and I revels in splendour.

So, let’s address the Elephant in the room, shall we? Hammerstein’s original lyrics and script work for The King and I haven’t aged well, though in truth its white saviour plot point, overarching a narrative riddled with stereotypes, negative imagery and cultural appropriation has never been acceptable. If you cannot move beyond these aspects of theatre, The King and I won’t be for you (though this is another discussion entirely). Nor is three-quarters of musical theatre pre-millennium. In their drive to pursue a story of an independent woman, balancing a level of dignitary acceptance, with self-respect against a patriarchal establishment, Hammerstein inadvertently stokes issues of cultural representation.

If you can put this to one side, The Lincoln Centre Theater Production of The King and I is an absolute spectacle of musical theatre, and a triumph of stage, artistry and talent. From the leads to ensemble, there is little, is anything, not to enjoy. Annalene Beechey, stood upon the deck of Michael Yeargan’s set design frames the production triumphantly, not only holding a candle but snatching it from Deborah Kerr, the synonymous performer of the role alongside Brinner in 1956. With the abundant charm of an English rose, a dash of Julie Andrews’ thorny grit, she’s captivating to watch. Vocally foreboding, the control of tone is impressive, nary a strained note or forced delivery in earshot. 

In a moderate attempt to zhuzh up the text, snippets of modernist efforts are brought to the characters of Anna and the King of Siam. Jose Llana strikes less intimidation as the titular King, but his royal presence is evident. There’s as much a cowering adoration for the man, as there is a presence as a father. A welcome addition, Llana is accessible, warming to his humour, and stitch inducing facial expression. Timing to perfection, his delivery ricochets off any of those who are unfortunate to receive the brunt of his wit – that is, of course, except Beechey’s Anna. Naturally harmonious, the pair have instant chemistry. Individually, they excel, as a unit, their vocal melodies synchronise, their movement pieces the gleaming jewel of the production.

As the building notes of household classic Shall We Dance? ripple through the theatre, there is movement, not solely on stage. Silhouettes, bobbing in idyllic enjoyment, swaying to the tune, demonstrate the sublime attractiveness of live theatre. The necessity of insightful costume creation becomes apparent. Catherine Zuber’s pieces, which thus far have ranged from exuberantly whimsical, to gloriously vibrant, are put to the test. A magnificent gown, resplendent to replicate Beechey’s presence, it captures the tone of the production. Glamorous, elegant, but sculpted in a way to have fun.

To praise Beechey and Llana’s movement wouldn’t be enough, the weight of the costume, merely adds respect to Beechey’s ability as she laces back and forth around the Palace, all the while Llana’s control maintains a momentum, synchronising with the orchestra. Rivalled only by The Small House of Uncle Thomas’ infusion of Eastern storytelling, it fits precisely into the production, just on the cusp of overstaying its welcome, veers into a perfect amount of time, instigating the climax. Complimenting European ballet style, with fluid movements of traditional Eastern dance, its creativity is as exquisite as it’s storytelling mechanics.

Cezarah Bonner and Kok-Hwa Lie, taking on secondary roles as the Prince’s mother and Siam’s Prime Minister push their characters into the primary narrative with how successful they grasp attention. Clear, powerful vocals, bring emotion to their roles, only eclipsed by the finale between Anna and the King. Kok-Haw Lie especially selling a harrowing hurt in how Anna has ‘broken’ the King.

Attempting to stand out against illustrious staging, Ethan Le Phong’s Lun Tha suffers. Washing out, his character is extremely minimal for what is a pivotal tertiary narrative, which brings about the climax with his secretive relationship with Burmese ‘gift’ to the king, Tuptim. Tuptim, performed by Paulina Yeung, gifts us with reciting Uncle Thomas’ reading. Her meeting with Lun Tha in secret, cast in the atmospheric royal sapphires of Donald Holders lighting feels held together on her end.

Your head should never be above the King’s, so luckily, the raised Playhouse stage offers plenty of wiggle room to allow for a standing ovation. A well deserved one, for a near-perfect production whose only notable flaws lies within the skeleton of the piece itself, a product of its era – the talent involved in the production are wonders in their field. You don’t have to travel far off the map to experience an entirely new world, or revisit a familiar one. The King and I promises grandeur, and it is triumphant in delivering this.

Runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until October 26th, then continues touring: https://www.atgtickets.com/times/the-king-and-i/edinburgh-playhouse/2019-10-21

Photo Credit – Johan Persson

Annie – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Book by Thomas Meehan

Music by Charles StrouseLyrics by Martin Charnin

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Little orphan Annie, the tale of a scrappy, fiercely independent red-head orphan, is a cornerstone of musical theatre. Lyrical, quotable and determined to put a smile on your face, the production resumes touring with a thoroughly talented cast. Escaping the spiteful gaze of Miss Hannigan, Annie sees the gritty truth of the Big Apple. Encountering a few friends along the way, in high places, and one with excess fur, Annie finds herself being taken in by billionaire Warbucks.

Usually, politeness is on hand for younger performers in the role of Annie or fellow orphans. No such modesty is needed, however, as making her professional debut, Ava Smith isn’t emulating Annie – she is Annie. Snarky, friendly yet sharp in delivery, Smith is a firecracker who can belt out the big notes, holding clarity as well as our attention. At first, Smith’s Annie feels older, but she’s portraying a young girl puffing out her feathers to intimidate the world, capturing that brazen young American, hiding a vulnerable young girl.  

We love you Miss Hannigan’, words these unfortunate orphans must recite to the drunkard who is now their carer. Lesley Joseph is certainly a Miss Hannigan to fall for. She doesn’t quite have the fangs others have given the role, Joseph instead provides her honed comedic talents. Exaggeration is everything, Joseph is a veteran of comedy, knowing where to toe the line between over the top, and accessible. From the glugs of her ‘medicine’ to the slight wobble in her movement, she somehow offers a subtlety to a role which is dangerously easy to overplay. Vocally, her numbers reserve themselves for humour and characterisation, delivering a spit-fuelled Little Girls.

Something is fascinating with the music of Annie, beloved staples of the industry; chiefly Tomorrow and It’s a Hard Knock Life, reliving these live on stage is a wholly distinctive experience. These charming ditties – known to most, transform, proving that no matter how superior a cast recording is, nothing can eclipse a live performance. Nothing can capture the expressive nostalgia of N.Y.C quite like a performer’s smile, and certainly, nothing can come close to capturing the antics of Easy Street.

Rooster by name, Rooster by nature – Richard Meek has them snakes hips we envy, strutting around like any rooster in the hen-house. Easy Street casually strolls to the forefront of our enjoyment, firmly planting itself as a favourite. Choreographer Nick Winston, with reinforcement from dance captain Amy West, maintains an upbeat presence throughout Annie. Excelling at this, giving a huge boost to the character, Meek captures the spirit of Rooster, erratic, impulsive and unpredictable.

Framing these larger than life characters is no easy feat, one Colin Richmond readily prepares for. Setting the production in an emerald tinted homage to Rob Howell’s Matilda design, Richmond works in tandem with Ben Cracknell to provide a vibrancy which manages to illuminate the theatre, from the barrel fires of Hooverville to the glitz, gold and shine of Warbucks mansion. 

Bringing the ol’ razzamatazz, Daddy Warbucks himself, Alex Bourne captures an inherent art of classical musical theatre. His performance is paternal, selling the character as a loving father as easily as the businessman. Between his warming chemistry with Smith, the presence of four-footed diva Amber the dog and a wealth of talented young women as Annie’s fellow orphans. It’s a production which goes beyond expectations.

It can be a hard knock life these days, Annie is pure escapism, it’s comforting theatre, welcoming to all with a timeless charm. An already tried and tested piece, what this recent touring does is capitalise on a strong cast who look, act and feel the part. Take a few hours out of the day, breath in that rich, city air and re-live the thriving bundle of playfulness that is Annie.

Production runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday October 5th. Tickets available from: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/edinburgh-playhouse/