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Hale opening '9 to 5,' closing gender gap

The high energy fun at Hale Centre Theatre in their new 9 to 5 production is anything but business as usual. Compromised boss man Hector Coris and office management guru Brandi Bigley, cast leads, put in a little overtime after last night's performance for an interview with Examiner. Their show, that clocked in as a Dolly Parton smash single and blockbuster movie (1980) and then transferred to Broadway (2009) before setting up shop in Gilbert where the local cast works it through May 7, opened this weekend to full houses.

Hector Coris (Franklin Hart) & Chelsea Janzen (Doralee) in Hale's 9 to 5
Hector Coris (Franklin Hart) & Chelsea Janzen (Doralee) in Hale's 9 to 5
Nick Woodward/Hale Theatre

"It's a classic tale of men against women in the workplace," said Coris (Franklin Hart) about the story of three very different female characters who Hart nonchalantly manages to degrade and humiliate routinely. The sassy tale and Parton's bouncy music are driven by the ladies' unconventional response to Hart's relentless gender bias.

"He's just so gross." chuckled Coris. "Hart's disgusting, and it's really fun to play a character that broad." Yet, Coris' game was so on, that between the biggest bursts of his wonderfully laughable "sexist, egotistical, lying hypocritical bigotry," he made us squirm just a little, knowing that we've actually met characters sorta' like his.

The fed up females, Violet (Bigley), Doralee (Chelsea Janzen) and Judy (Emily Evans), don't only resent Hart from the onset. Their working relationships with one another are equally strained from the get go. Though their styles and physical stances were as far apart as Hale's small space allows during the trio 'I Just Might,' the music created a remarkable, unexpected synergy. As their individual voices locked together, even through an exquisite dissonant chord, the audience understood before the "girls" knew: the three would forge a beautifully-blended working relationship.

These three secretaries make the show, especially Bigley who was as direct and assertive as she was nurturing from the moment she entered. Janzen too, with sincere sweetness and spunk reminiscent of Parton's own, does Doralee proud.

Later, a girls night out finds the three fantasizing about settling the score with Hart. Evans, spot-on as always, was in her element like never before. She turned Judy from mousy, jilted housewife to homicidal office seductress with commanding flair. As an added bonus, the technical team's impressive replica of a Xerox behemoth of the '70s became Hart's tomb in the process.

It was office politics on steroids when Act I closed with such bursting spectacle that the crowd had forgotten they were at a cozy theatre in relaxed Gilbert. Similar pizzazz accompanied the big chorus number 'Change It,' paying big dividends on Musical Director Lincoln Wright's investment.

For all its ridiculousness, the show provided relevant messages and tender moments along the way. Job satisfaction, employee retention and wage discrimination, as Coris noted, "are still pertinent issues." How emotions fit (or don't fit) in a workplace kept arising, too.

The thing about Violet's character's moments of emotional weakness was that they seem designed to cameo the strengths her mentoring had given to the Doralees and Judys of the world. Violet led the way on fraternization policies, too. Perhaps the show's most genuine moment occurred when Bigley, as the tough-as-nails corporate woman, opened for just one number the tiny portal that exposed a damaged, lonely widow inside.

"Let Love Grow' is probably my favorite," Bigley said. "It's the only real opportunity I get to slow down and focus on feelings."

Those feelings could not have materialized had Corey Gimlin, playing a quintessential Joe, not embodied a modern-day corporate dream man. The scene concluded with a lovely bit of staging that allowed Violet, against her own job-centered judgment, to trust her heart and take Joe's hand.

All in all, the profit margin in 9 to 5 is huge. It is, doubtless, a sound business bet.

-Jennifer Haaland