BWW Interview: Natalie McQueen Talks 9 TO 5 THE MUSICAL
Natalie McQueen's past work includes Kinky Boots, Wicked, Les Misérables and Murder Ballad. She's now starring as Doralee - Dolly Parton's role in the film version - in 9 to 5 the Musical, currently playing at the Savoy Theatre.
Did you know 9 to 5 well beforehand?
I'd seen the movie a couple of years ago; then, when I got the job, my boyfriend put it straight back on! And I was aware of the musical version too.
What attracted you to the part of Doralee?
Well, it's completely unlike any part I'd ever played before. Very much Dolly Parton! I also loved that the show's about three very different women who come together to make their lives better. It's so relevant still - equal rights in the workplace. With all the audiences we've had so far, you can feel people getting pumped up as we tell this story.
Doralee is a great challenge, because she's so not like me as a person. Of course, as an actor, you don't want to just be your part, but here, I look completely different - the outfits, and the "assets" she has! Plus I get to do a cool accent. I'm very much tomboy normally, more like Lauren in Kinky Boots, but it's so much fun to channel Dolly.
Have you met Dolly Parton yet?
Not yet, she's coming over for press night. But I've heard a video of her saying my name, which was just the best moment!
What inspiration do you take from her?
Dolly's the first to say about herself that she knows how she looks and how that's interpreted. There's a song I sing in the show, "Backwoods Barbie", and it begins "I've always been misunderstood because of how I look/Don't judge me by the cover, 'cause I'm a real good book". That's really key to Doralee - you can't help but play the truth of her. She might have the Dolly hair, nails and boobs, but she's really lovable, just as Dolly is.
It was a bit strange initially, having a new person coming in, especially as you settle in and bond so fast during rehearsals, but Caroline is a real musical theatre pro - she came in and right away she's got it. She's Superwoman! She's really anchoring the show, and we're privileged to have her.
How does this experience compare to inheriting an established role?
I feel really lucky to have this opportunity. It wasn't until I got the music and script that I realised how great it is to set a role. It feels very different originating Doralee for the West End, finding all these new elements - like she's strong, she's got a rough side to her, she can look after herself. That's a real treat. And she's made me feel more confident in myself too! It's great playing someone who sticks to her guns and knows who she is.
The show has some surreal elements, like the girls' dream sequence about killing their boss. What's that like to play?
Actually, it's interesting - the dream sequence section has been reworked. There's a brand-new song Dolly wrote called "Hey Boss" that replaces it, and it's a really empowering number. We got to hear the home version of Dolly singing it herself - that was another goosebumps moment.
How is Brian Conley as the evil boss?
Brian is a lot of fun. My dad loved him growing up - he'll get a shock seeing this! It's such an amazing group of people. We've got Bonnie Langford too; watching her do her number is like a musical theatre masterclass. I come onstage straight after, so I get to watch the whole thing from the wings. Her and Brian together are comedy gold.
What's nice is we've got someone in the cast who's a reality TV star, plus long-time musical theatre people, so there's something for everyone. You don't have to know a lot about musicals to enjoy it - it's a fun, pop-type score, and you can just get a drink at the bar and come have a good night out.
As well as being a fun show, it deals with some still very resonant issues. Have you experienced any workplace inequality?
Of course, we can always improve the workplace for women. In musical theatre, the lines are very blurred - it's good that we're talking more about that. But having more female writers and creatives, gender-neutral casting, having everyone accepted and loved, that makes a huge difference. Patricia Resnick's script is so refreshing, coming from a female perspective - there's always room for more of that.
We haven't had to push it to feel relevant in a #MeToo era way - the great writing speaks for itself. You just have to look at what the women in the story are fighting for in their office, the changes they're making, and a lot of that still hasn't happened.
Are you proud to be part of a female-led production and story?
Absolutely! I hope, if I was a teenage girl watching these three women being feminist badasses and nailing it, being the driving force of the story, and also being there for each other, that that would be really inspiring.
There are some other shows that have those aspects, like Wicked has a great female lead and themes about acceptance and respecting each other. 9 to 5 is all about respect and understanding, and showing you don't have to pit women against each other. That's something everyone can relate to, whether or not you're teaming up to get back at a horrible boss!
Do you have any favourite numbers in the show?
I do love "Backwoods Barbie" - it's a really lovely character moment. It's very strong, then shows this tiny glimmer of vulnerability. There are so many great numbers though. "Change It" is a brilliant one for these women and showing the positive effect they've had on their environment.
Have you enjoyed being part of the show's development?
Definitely, we've had a lovely long development period - even now we're tweaking the odd thing. It feels amazing to contribute to the creative process. I'd love to do more like this in future. I'll take whatever keeps me working in the industry that I love, but originating something is very special. And it does feel different leading the story. I hope people like Doralee - she's so much fun to play.
Finally, why would you encourage people to come see 9 to 5?
It feels like something the West End needs right now. It's got a real message, it's fun and exciting, it'll make you laugh and have a good time, and hopefully feel part of something bigger too - the audiences so far are clapping along, cheering, they're really vocal in this great empowering way. I'd love it if that continues!
Photo credit: Pamela Raith