The ACT Theatre in Anacortes has a history of strong and ambitious productions, with a wealth of local talent from which to draw upon. Opening on March 30, and running through April 28th is the Dolly Parton musical “9 to 5”, featuring the ACT directorial debut of local favorite T.J. Fantini. Contributor Jade Carter and I had the good fortune to attend the dress rehearsal the evening before opening night.
The crowd had settled into their seats at showtime and were introduced to the production by T.J. His energy, excitement, and positive attitude conveyed in brief comments was a foreshadowing of the vibe later given off by the talented cast as the show commenced. The production was bookended by a recorded multimedia vignette by Dolly Parton herself.
TJ Fantini and his cast and crew deserve rave reviews. Scene transitions were as smooth as butter. Katie Jennings has done a marvelous job with the choreography. The musical numbers, accompanied by an offstage live band, were tight and lively. Sets were perfect throwbacks to the office environment of the early ‘80s.
Katie Jennings does a perfect soft Texas drawl, and is clearly able to fill the shoes of Dolly Parton. Marilyn Pinquoch makes the transition from embattled worker to leader with a combination of vulnerability and strength. Taylor Bannister as Judy shows us a woman becoming confident in herself after coming from a place of insecurity. It’s a testament to Dale Aspeland that we feel a sense of dread whenever Mr. Hart’s office set appears onstage. This musical celebrates girl power, and will make you laugh, wince, and rejoice by the end.
I had the opportunity to speak with the director, TJ Fantini, by phone. TJ got his start directing the Wizard of Oz at Anacortes High School, and has assisted theater students in creating their own productions through the Class Act program in town.
He is a very passionate and dynamic individual who credits many strong women in his life as mentors. Sherry Shavers, his 3rd and 4th grade teacher, has maintained a friendship with TJ. Stella Marchant, a Los Angeles-based construction executive, and Vicki McManus-Peterson, a local Skagit Valley businesswoman, also figure strongly as influences. But TJ saves special praise for his mother. In directing 9 to 5, TJ exclaims “These are the women I want people to see”.
When speaking about the relevance of the musical to recent events with the #MeToo movement, T.J. has a nuanced take. While he did not want to focus the material on our current social climate, he insists that the work issues depicted from the earlier era are still 100% relevant. It is a period piece which remains contemporary, and T.J. emphasizes the need to work for change and empowerment. T.J. notes that the treatment of women is not a partisan problem – there is no “us versus them”. He also stressed that the office scenes between Mr. Hart and the embattled Doralee should make the audience feel uncomfortable.
T.J. is a huge fan of musical theater as an art form and would love to tackle “Evita” in the future. In his words “Everyone feels music one way or another”. The production of 9 to 5 as staged by this talented cast and crew certainly achieves that standard.
The ACT Theatre Mainstage is at 918 M Avenue in Anacortes, WA. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances begin at 7:30 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $20. To reserve, call (360) 293-6829. Box Office hours are 10:30 am – 2:00 pm Monday through Friday.