The legendary Dolly Parton’s first musical, based on the 1980 film that she starred in, does everything it can to entertain. The songs are good, of course, not just the back catalogue used but numbers written for the show. And the additional lyrics to that famous title number are frequently smart. Unfortunately, despite a large crew of orchestrators and arrangers, the production does not service Parton’s music well; it all sound tinny and simplistic. The show is feelgood for most of the time, but the fun is forced. Atmosphere is fought for with gritted teeth and forced smiles, which ends up self-defeating.
Many of the flaws come from the book by Patricia Resnick, who adapts her original screenplay – about secretaries taking over from their tyrannical boss – far too faithfully. Not enough attention is paid to the fact that this is a period piece (Tom Rogers’ design could help a bit more) with the uncomfortable result that the sexism the show condemns makes up most of its humour. In what’s supposed to be a comedy, the jokes become an increasing problem. Unfortunately, our trio of career women struggle too much to land the pretty poor material. Again, the shadow of the film – with three talented comedians – overshadows the stage show.
Louise Redknapp plays Violet (until 29 June, in case you’re interested), the competent businesswoman passed over for men she has trained. Redknapp has stage presence and is a personality you want to like. But seeing how hard she is trying becomes uncomfortable. She can sing and does well with a big glam number that really isn’t much cop, but she is not an actor and her accent is painful. Amber Davies plays the recently divorced Judy (inexplicably recast as a young woman) and doesn’t seem to try with the accent at all. When she’s not sobbing loudly, she sounds shrill. Natalie McQueen takes a different tack with Doralee, the Dolly Parton role, and ends up leading the show (which isn’t quite the idea). Presented as a caricature of the great woman herself, she’s nice and cheeky and at least looks as if she’s having fun. Director Jeff Calhoun seems to have left each performer to their own devices and the result is a mess.
For the rest of the laughs, Brian Conley plays the infamous boss Franklin Hart Jr and manages to get some pretty moronic jokes literally off the ground. But note, he isn’t in a character at all and murders the songs, not because he can’t sing, but because he’s playing everything so cheaply. Thank heavens for Bonnie Langford who plays office termagant Roz to camp perfection; her lust for Hart is hilarious and Langford hams it up to the heavens while looking as if she’s barely breaking a sweat. Langford gauges the tenor of the show, leaving everyone else behind. She even takes a bow better than the rest of this workaday crew.
Until 31 August 2019
Photo by Simon Turtle