Theater review: ‘9 to 5’ at Asheville Community Theatre

OFFICE SPACE: Alexa Edelman, Marisa Noelle and Myra McCoury plot revenge against their boss, played by Luke Marshall Haynes, in ACT's production of the Dolly Parton musical '9 to 5.' Photo by Studio Misha

Can a decade-old comedy musical, based on a nearly 40-year-old movie be, in 2018, freshly relevant? What was a winking satire in the days of 1970s-era feminism may have a whole new purpose in modern America as Dolly Parton‘s rousing workplace musical, 9 to 5, takes the stage at Asheville Community Theatre. The show runs through Sunday, March 4.

Director Jerry Crouch‘s deft casting keeps the production from getting mired in the pervasive headlines of men in power abusing women. Key among the cast is Luke Marshall Haynes as a predator-in-chief who is openly objectifying his sassy assistant and disrespecting the women around him. Haynes plays the role of Frank Hart with loathsome glee, without letting it become too dark or too cartoony.

A trio of underappreciated and over-worked women find themselves unlikely allies as they plot to get back at their boss. Things get out of hand and spiral beyond their fantasies (which are acted out in epic musical numbers where Haynes finds himself getting knocked around and kneed in the crotch repeatedly.) In dealing with the crisis that lands them in hot water with Mr. Hart, the women find new purpose and inspiration. They are transformed into who they were meant to be if their potential had not been repressed.

Myra McCoury makes her ACT debut in the role of Doralee. You can’t do this show without invoking the spirit of Dolly Parton, and McCoury embodies it with a passionate spunk.

The timid Judy (played by Alexa Edelman) has just been left by her husband, Dick. Having never been in the workplace, she takes a job as a company typist. Edelman has become a welcome and familiar face on local stages. She not only has a showstopping number late in the production but also grows the most as a character.

As widowed single mom Violet, Marisa Noelle is the de facto ringleader of the office rebellion. She has been passed over for promotion despite being more qualified than the men who have moved up the corporate ladder. Noelle gives the role a weary pathos early on. She also impresses in several vocal and dance numbers. Her final speech, dressing down her boss, is a rousing moment that elicits cheers from the audience.

Emily Warren is hilarious as the office suck-up, among a core of leads who elevate this community theater production to near-professional levels. This is helped all the more by Tina Pissano-Foor‘s precision choreography and tight musical direction from Sarah Fowler. Jill Summers‘ scenic design is a perfectly stylized, late ’70s office and various locales.

Is it possible that 9 to 5 is to the #MeToo movement what The Crucible was to ’50s-era McCarthy hearings? It comes close, which may just be a commentary on this topsy-turvy world we currently live in. If anything, the show demonstrates how little has actually changed for women in the workplace. While the production was selected nearly two years ago (before the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Steve Wynn, and even the president made headlines for inappropriate behavior) Asheville Community Theatre may have accidentally hit the socio-political bull’s-eye with its latest offering.

WHAT: 9 to 5
WHERE: Asheville Community Theatre, 35 Walnut St., ashevilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, March 4. Fridays and Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays, at 2:30 p.m. $15-30

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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