On Thursday 18th November, I had the wonderful experience of going to watch “9 to 5” in the Riley Smith Theatre, Leeds University Union. Being an avid fan of the theatre, performance and all things musical, I was apprehensive having never seen a performance by the Leeds University Union Music Theatre Society before.
I wasn’t nervous in so far as afraid the standard would not be high, simply unaware of what to expect. Little did I know I was in for an absolute treat, and one of the most enjoyable evenings of my university experience thus far.
The opening number of the show saw a wonderful introduction to the next few hours, with fantastic set design in the multi-level stage. We had the home of Violet and Josh Newstead, the office of the antagonist Franklin Hart and finally the main stage that saw numerous props and set changes, allowing for the story to be told in many different locations.
The set, designed by Amy Wassell, was both simple and effective, with an emphasis on different levels to optimise a rather small stage and performance space; it worked fantastically. Coupled with the great lighting choices by Natalie Izquierdo that saw a focus on each different part of the set, it was a transformative experience, each aspect of the stage allowing a different story to be told.
The opening number introduced us to the three protagonists, Violet Newstead, Judy Bernly and Doralee Rhodes, played by Lydia Duval, Mia Crockart and Cass Curno respectively. These three ladies were absolute powerhouses, and if there was ever a trio most suited to a show all about female empowerment, you could not have cast better than those three performers.
From the moment each took to the stage, you were transfixed on their skills and the story they were telling. The introduction to Violet Newstead in particular showed a headstrong, firm, and confident woman, a performance to be heralded from the beginning until the end.
The beautiful harmonies began with the ensemble performance of the titular song “9 to 5,” offering an amazing insight into what was to come. The orchestration and music directed by Alex Boulton saw clean vocals, harmonies, and a consistently on-beat band. The ensemble was undeniably strong with stand-out performances from each member of the cast.
I experienced a significant lack of ability to focus on one person, with every character having the potential to steal focus and appear as if the leads of their own show. This did not prevent them from working together as a remarkable team and unit, with the smooth voices complimenting each other, besides simple yet engaging choreography.
The female friendships within the show were largely based on the mutual hatred for the “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” Franklin Hart Jr, while Doralee Rhodes remained equally disliked by the secretaries due to her believed “friendship” with Hart. This, however, is just an example of the kindness of Doralee, her sweet nature acted perfectly by Cass Curno.
Josh Phillips performed the terrifying, yet funny rendition of “Here for You” which made all audience members simultaneously cringe and laugh, the performance perfected right down to uncomfortable poses that a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” would choose. Phillips conducted and created a perfect character, one equally hated and relished by the audience members, apparent in the constant laughter and squeals from those around me.
The three leading ladies then treated the audience to a wonderful rendition of “I Just Might”, outlining strength, courage, and a desire to perfect each of their ideas and goals within the story. Mia Crockart provided a standout performance in this song, her beautiful voice embellished with natural vibrato and consistent pitch.
An introduction to the sub-plot of an office romance between Violet and Joe (played by Chris Bache) offered a sweeter, more empathic side to Violet Newstead. Their shared chemistry was another highlight for me, however small and insignificant to the main plot of the story. It was so refreshing to see the leading lady be presented as headstrong, career-driven and multi-faceted, with a desire to also have romantic relationships.
So often there can be a lack of character development and two dimensions in female leads, and it was wonderful to see this character cleverly curated and played by Lydia Duval. She did a wonderful job at showing both dimensions to the character, with comedic relief supplied by her relationship with her hilarious son Josh (Alice Gedye).
Further comedy was provided in the marijuana-induced dream sequences, based on the murder of Franklin Hart. These scenes offered another glimpse at a fantastic and adaptable ensemble, with each taking on a different role within the dreams.
The ensemble made the show what it was for me, and their role in also helping change sets and props allowed stage transformations to happen more smoothly, which was something that happened a lot throughout the show. Some may say that the set and props design was too simple, but I think the simplicity was beautiful in many ways, allowing the talent of the actors to take precedence over an overly complicated set.
Evey Jermy took the stage as Roz Keith, Franklin Hart’s hilariously manic and obsessive assistant and offered a stark contrast to the other female characters in the show. Her performance of “Heart to Hart” had the entire audience in stitches of laughter, the commitment to the role unfaltering every step of the way. Roz had a different, yet equally fantastic vocal performance, where her technique and breathwork were outstanding; it showed the audience, you don’t have to lose out on those good vocals where quirky and unique characters are created.
Another two commendable solo performances were that of “Backwards Barie” sung by Cass Curno as Doralee Rhodes, and “Get Out and Stay Out” by Mia Crockart as Judy Bernly. “Backwards Barbie” offered an emotional yet entertaining story, with Curno’s vocals shining through as perfect once more, strong, yet suited beautifully to the country style of the performance, necessary to replicate the character very obviously based on the incomparable Dolly Parton!
“Get Out and Stay Out” was my star of the show. A well-known shower song and the classic “money note” vocally meant that the song was to be looked forward to while also considered to be nerve-wracking for those who know and love it. Mia Crockart exceeded all expectations, her acting through song infinitely brilliant, vocals strong while equally maintaining the emotions needed to perform such a transcendent piece at a watershed moment for her character. My notes at this part of the show simply said “unreal” in capital letters, which I think sums up how truly brilliant Mia Crockart was in her depiction of Judy Bernly.
The sound team, led by Jay Sunley, were great throughout, yet showed obvious tenacity when the microphone of Doralee cut out toward the end of the show. Being sat so close to the soundbox, I could personally see and understand how hard they worked to ensure her microphone was fixed or swapped.
It was the only small hitch in the show and is an exemplar of the hard work of all involved, as it was not long until her microphone was fixed, allowing us to hear her beautiful vocals more clearly again. Whether or not she knew her microphone stopped working, I am unsure, but her powerhouse vocals and the support of the audience made sure she continued to the best of her ability, still shining thoroughly.
The finale and the bow sequence saw a moment of appreciation for all members of the cast and crew, with the final icing on the cake being the well-deserved standing ovation procured at the end of the production. All cast members, no matter how small their parts, were supported and applauded by the audience, a true testament to how well this show was received. A truly wonderful evening which I think would be difficult to match by watching anything other than this remarkable show!
Words by: Maeve Wood
Edited by: Tamikka Reid