Savoy Theatre. Booking until August.
This is a fun, crowd-pleaser of a musical that will have everyone up and dancing for the encore (of the title song).
If you know the film, then you know the plot and the characters. Although a few shortcuts have been made (we lose the cop scene with the body in the boot, sadly but understandably hard to re-create on stage), we don’t loose any of the comic drama.
We’re still set in the 1980s and a videoed intro by Dolly herself sets the period and introduces us to the characters we know but obviously don’t recognise in the guise of Caroline Sheen (Violet aka Lilly Tomlin in the film), Amber Davis (Judy aka Jane Fonda) and Natalie McQueen (aka Dolly).
The themes of misogyny, workplace harassment and women banding together to fight oppression necessarily has a current resonance. Which in many ways makes this a bit of a depressing watch. The opening scene where Hart (Brian Connolly who manages to land the sleaze / comedy balance well) chases Doralee around the office, frankly made my skin crawl. And I half hoped there would be some updating.
We get a few contemporary nods – jokes about equal pay and women CEOs (tongues firmly in cheeks) – as well as a scene in the office kitchen where the women eye up one of the guys in the office. But otherwise we’re firmly in 1980 – including the fashions, furniture and attitudes.
Songs penned by Dolly give us some further understanding of characters and their emotional state. Stand out for me was ‘Backwards Barbie’, in which the character of Doralee gives a heartfelt plea for society to not judge a book by its cover. ‘Shine Like the Sun’ brings our three protagonists ganging up together and works well giving us the crescendo to take us into the interval. Violet’s ‘One of the Boys’ and Judy’s ‘Get Out and Stay Out’ are good solid tunes, very much in the traditional musical mould with ‘Change It’ giving us an anthemic tune for Act II.
Bonnie Langford who plays the company spy to Hart, gets a show-stealing scene and song, ‘Heart to Hart’, where her (frankly unfathomable) lust for Hart is given full vent!
Natalie McQueen does a brilliant job as Doralee – both in belting out the songs, the look and the southern drawl.
For me this was a hugely enjoyable night out. It has weaknesses though, one purely in the depressing nature of how far we haven’t come in terms of equality, the other though is in a lack of ambition in terms of staging and songs. Overall I would say it is a safe musical. And whilst I know it will do incredibly well, and deservedly so, those seeking something more challenging surely know there is more on offer.
February 6 (Stalls D2-3)