WITH ‘busloads’ of family and friends lined up to see her, Natalie Casey is ready for a Manchester audience to make or break her latest project.

Next month, the Rawtenstall actress returns to the North West for the UK premiere of Dolly Parton’s musical 9 To 5.

Just one week into rehearsals, she’s looking forward to the trip to home territory and a role in the show she’s been waiting to come in the UK since it’s Broadway debut in 2009.

Based on the film of the same name, 9 To 5 has a score of 18 songs — including the hit title track — which earned Tony and Grammy nominations for Dolly Parton.

“The film is brilliant and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it,” the 32-year-old said. “I knew the show had been on Broadway and kept saying to my agent ‘Is it coming?’ “I’m a big fan of the film, and the show is very similar — but with songs.”

Natalie plays Judy — the Jane Fonda role in the film — who’s starting work for the first time after her husband leaves her for his secretary. Judy and her colleagues and new-found friends, Doralee and Violet, turn the tables on their sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical boss, take control of the company and learn there’s nothing they can’t do. During the show Judy transforms from ‘mousey, meek and bumbling’ to become a ‘girl power icon’ — a change which drew Natalie to the project.

“That’s what’s interesting about the show and the film. It’s very rare you get any kind of show about three women, of a certain age, doing for themselves,” she said.

“You only get certain times in entertainment that people are ready for women to be confident characters on stage. Something has happened in musicals from Broadway and into the West End.

“Even maybe 10 to 15 years ago, there might not have been a place for me on stage, as I tend to play quite strong female characters and have a specific look which is not necessarily one which men would want to sleep with. I’m not a minger, but not a typical leading girl.

“If you look back to the time of the film, 1979-80, then there was a feeling that women would take over the world and that’s happening again. Maybe it’s a bit of an economic climate thing; if businesses were conducting their business in a way more typical of the female mentality — talking to each other, being less aggresive — perhaps they’d be more successful.”

Best known to many from her days in Hollyoaks and Four Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps, Natalie’s made a definite move to theatre in recent years. In just the last 18 months, she’s gone from Paulette in Legally Blonde to Angela in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party — a play which only closed on September 1.

“It’s been a massive change to go from Mike Leigh to 9 To 5 — but that’s what you’re paid to do,” she said. “Of course you get stereotyped to a degree, but this transition has been really ‘wow’.”

9 To 5 opens at Manchester Opera House on October 12, as part of the Manchester Gets It First scheme — which brought Ghost and Monkee Business to the city.

“Getting a premiere in Manchester feels really good, and so many great shows do that now — look at Ghost.

“In London, it’s a very typical theatre audience, where people see it as less of a treat — which the theatre should be. It’s just somewhere to go on a Saturday night, whatever’s the latest hot ticket,” she said.

“But in Manchester it will always be an honest response and you will know immediately if what you’re doing is good or not. People are there because they want to be and it’s exciting that the city will make or break us. I’ve got busloads coming from home; mum and dad are coming to opening night. They’ve told my husband — who’ll be working in Leeds — that if Dolly’s there, they will be too.”

Natalie will ‘celebrate’ her first wedding anniversary to actor husband Paul Kemp on Tuesday, a day off she booked as soon as she landed the 9 To 5 role.

And while there’s little planned for the day, she’s quite definitely happily married.

“You hit a point in life when you realise actually you love someone. And doing this job has so many ups and downs, disappointments and joys, travelling and meeting people, that to think there’s one area of life which is just ‘done’ and not hectic is great — especially when you know it’s the right person.

“I think we will just sit in our PJs and watch a film. We lead crazy lives and go to nice restaurants — I would rather sit and look at my husband’s face.

“I do keep being asked when we’ll have children. It’s the worst thing. I’m like ‘Sorry, is it 1954?’ I was under the idea you could make a decision now. I love my husband and I love my work so we’ll see — but not yet.

“I’ve been working solidly for about four years now, the last two years with jobs crossing over — finishing one as I’m starting the next. So I’m battered and would like a bit of a break; the ideal would be touring 9 To 5 until March, then having April to July off, get back rehearsing in August and for it to open on the West End in September.

  • 9 to 5, Manchester Opera House, Friday, October 12 to Saturday, October 20, Details 0844 871 7660