Office girls promise lots of laughs

WEST END hit musical 9 to 5 is the Alex's Christmas present to Birmingham and the West Midlands, providing a fun alternative to traditional panto.

Dolly Parton's starred in her own musical film but this latest reincarnation stars another multi-talented female performer in Bonnie Langford, who made her West End debut at the tender age of seven in 1971 in Gone with the Wind at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane.

In one of those strange theatrical quirks I was editor of Sennet, the newspaper of London University Student Union, at the time and, a tad older than seven, and reviewed Miss Langford on her debut  on that opening night 41 years ago.

The show was memorable for its special effects, particularly the burning of Atlanta. Since then she has been a regular in the West End and Broadway, on TV and in numerous films and from 2000 has made regular appearances in Dr Who as Mel and come third in Dancing on Ice.

Her last visit to the Midlands was as the Lady of the Lake in Spamalot – “I loved it, such a fun show and such a great company” and she returns in this girl power musical in the role of Roz Keith. The appeal? She said: “It's fun, it's vibrant and it's fun.

“I like doing something new. It is good to do something that is different and although the show has been done before on Broadway and the West End it is evolving again. I am extremely different to any of the ladies who have played Roz before. I am not denying that and I said why do you want me and they said we went something different.

Bonnie Langford as Roz Keith

“There is stuff that is created just for me and that is good for my creative juices. It has changed a lot from the Broadway production. There are three new songs. The concept is the same and the basic story is the same because that is what everyone loves, but Dolly has written a new song, she has written me a new song , there is a new song for the girls and it is nice to feel part of something that has so much input.

“The storyline is the same and it is very farcical. We are not doing Chekov here, it is a fun show and it has that slick American quality to it. It is a big show too, with a lot of people in it, playing multi characters.

“There is country in there, obviously, and a bit of big band, bit of Bluegrass, rhythm and blues, a bit of Broadway . . . I was talking to the Musical Director the other day and he was saying how interesting it was to get the mixture of musicians because he needed so many different players so we have a specialist guitarist in there and a fabulous trumpeter who can play all the big band stuff and normally you don't get that mixture of musicians in a band.”

For stars of the theatre whether in panto or shows for the festive period they they are everyone else's Christmas and often miss out on their own. Bonnie said: “We never do Christmas in our world we just do it. It is harder because I have a 12-year-old daughter but the fact I have Boxing Day this year is a bonus.

“The last time I did Christmas in Birmingham was Guys and Dolls and it was great.   You are in a group and we all celebrate together.“

Amy Lennox, who plays Doralee Rhodes, the part played by Dolly in the film, is on her first tour. She said: “It is a nice show. I can't think of many shows with three main females dominating and it is all about them taking control.

“This is pretty much a brand new show. Dolly has written new songs, the script has been re-written and there are scenes that were not in the Broadway production, so it is very exciting to be part of the creation of this show instead of coming in as a second cast. Just that bit more magical.

“It is more like the film than Broadway. They have gone back to the film and taken bits from it. The great thing is that is not a jukebox musical. It is a musical, not a storyline made to fit in with a bunch of songs from an album.”

Jackie Clune as Violet Newstead, Amy Lennox as Doralee Rhodes and Natalie Casey as Judy Bernly

For Jackie Clune, who plays the Lily Tomlin role of Violet Newstead, the show is a chance to use her skills honed in her other life as a stand-up.

“It is great to play a role where you can sing, because I love singing, and get all the dry one liners. I  have some great lines.

“I haven't done stand-up for a while but I have been doing musicals for six years. It is very different to be an employee. I miss doing comedy but it is so hard. For an older woman it is ever harder.

“There is less pressure in a musical. If your bit goes wrong you know there will be a good bit along it a minute. There is a lovely feeling that it is a collaborative exercise.”

She has struck up a friendship with Natalie Casey, who plays Judy Bernly which could have its moments. “It might get messy on stage. There may be some ad libbing. I think this needs to be a real romp and it could be riotous.”

Natalie, who, like Jackie, has a background in comedy, said: “The brilliant thing about this and with Jeff Calhoun as the director, is that it is being treated as something new. The first day of rehearsals he said ‘best idea wins', which is something you hardly ever hear, so if you have idea for something and you can put it across, your idea will be used, which is amazing.

“It is brilliant working with a creative team who respect you as a performer. At some point you have to make sure the show is set though, but you can tweak a few things-  hopefully you want to get the best product.”

And the best product runs at the New Alexandra Theatre from 17-12-12 to 05-01-13 - sort of 17 to 5.

Roger Clarke 

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