Theater review: 9 to 5 at Flat Rock Playhouse

A CUP OF AMBITION: Natalie Storrs, Marcy McGuigan and Ryah Nixon, from left, star in Flat Rock Playhouse’s main stage production of 9 to 5. Photo courtesy of Flat Rock Playhouse

It’s surprising that in 2016 women in power would still be perceived of as a threat. Yet as women fight for the presidency and equal opportunities in the workplace, the struggle is still very real. The 1980 comedy 9 to 5 was certainly onto something. The musical version, by Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick, is now showing on Flat Rock Playhouse’s main stage through Saturday, Aug. 20.

When three very different working women meet in a big business setting, they quickly become unlikely friends. Violet Newstead (played by Marcy McGuigan) is the brassy corporate climber, Doralee Rhodes (played by Ryah Nixon) is the busty office secretary, and Judy Bernly (played by Natalie Storrs) is the inexperienced former housewife. Their lives suddenly become frantic when accused of poisoning their sexist boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. (played by Patrick Ryan Sullivan). It’s an honest mistake: both the coffee sweetener and rat poison box looked the same, except for the little skull and crossbones on the label.

In this version, most of the characters are meant to be reminiscent of the film. Storrs excels above and beyond this wonderful cast. She gives her character a fresh twist, yet manages to be faithful to Jane Fonda’s timid interpretation. Her comedic timing and facial expressions are dead-on. Storrs gets the musical’s best number, “Get Out and Stay Out.” While dressed in a pink nightgown, she blows us back against our seats with her powerhouse voice. This song alone is worth a viewing.

Nixon has big stilettos to fill in the role that Dolly Parton originated. Somewhere between a caricature and Parton’s heart of gold, she nails it. Nixon is very, very appealing.

McGuigan certainly looks the part of headliner Violet, but when she goes for overt comedy, the performance doesn’t work as well. Lily Tomlin gave the role grit, which was needed to hold the trio together. Although McGuigan is good, that grit is not well balanced here.

Roz, the office snitch, gets her due in this musical. Tauren Hagans gives another enjoyable performance. She holds nothing back — wallowing atop a desk and licking a phone with no shame. She’s absolutely hilarious. (John Waters would have a field day.) David Lind also attracts attention as the sleazy Dick. Some of the ensemble appeared to be too young for the material, but their energetic dancing was certainly welcome.

Except for the random outbursts of song, the musical follows the film’s familiar story line up until the poisoning. When the script shifts even a little in a different direction, it becomes uncomfortable rather than embraceable. Most notable is the scene where the wrong body is abducted from the hospital. It’s without question the funniest sequence in the film and caused needed friction between the ladies. Its absence leaves a gaping hole.

Despite as-written story deviations, FRP takes over 9 to 5 unapologetically, so much so that it became extremely outrageous. With its explosive colors, retro fashions and big performances, it’s camp at its best. Choosing to go campy is a bold-but-fun move. Even though the film’s mixture of realism worked better overall, the risk pays off here: 9 to 5 must be seen to be believed.

There was a technical issue in this performance that delayed the show for approximately 10 minutes. Judging by the scurrying silhouettes behind an alabaster screen, the garage-door opener, meant to hold Hart captive while the ladies take over the company, malfunctioned. Luckily, this didn’t take away from the high energy that director and choreographer Amy Jones intended. Like one of Dolly Parton’s sequin gowns, 9 to 5 is tacky, whimsical and fun. It’s impossible not to walk away smiling.

WHAT: 9 to 5
WHERE: Flat Rock Playhouse, 2661 Greenville Highway, Flat Rock,
WHEN: Through Saturday, Aug. 20, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $15-$40

About Kai Elijah Hamilton
Kai Elijah Hamilton was born and raised in Western North Carolina. A poet, screenwriter and playwright, he is also a published film and theater critic. Hamilton is a creative individual with a wide range of talents and interests. He is an Award Winning Actor (Tom in "The Glass Menagerie") and Director ("A Raisin In The Sun"). He previously served as Artistic Director at Hendersonville Little Theatre and has a B.A. in theater and film from Western Carolina University. In 2016, Hamilton's play "The Sleepwalker" won a spot in the first annual Asheville National 10-Minute Play Festival by NYS3. His play "Blackberry Winter" was a finalist in the elite Strawberry One-Act Festival in NYC winning Best Short Film/Video Diary. Hamilton is also the author of the full-length southern-gothic play "Dry Weather Wind" which has been called "Important. Relevant to the issues in today's time, and beautifully written..."

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