Playhouse Merced opens its 19th season this weekend with celebration and mourning when it presents "9 to 5: The Musical."
As the cast dances, sings and laughs through the musical comedy, they also will be grieving the loss of their friend and co-worker Chenté Cervantes, who passed away unexpectedly this month.
"Once in awhile, you need to go to the theater just to escape from the world for a couple of hours," actress Dianne Kocher said. "We've had a rough couple of weeks here at the playhouse with the loss of our friend Chenté. He was our choreographer and assistant director for this show, and we all miss him terribly.
"So, while we haven't really finished mourning the loss of our friend, we know that Chenté would have insisted that the show must go on," Kocher said.
The show "9 to 5: The Musical" tells the story of Violet, Judy and Doralee, employees who decide to fight their lying, cheating, bigot of a boss and teach him a lesson.
Based on the blockbuster 1980 movie starring Lily Tomlin as Violet, Jane Fonda as Judy, Dolly Parton as Doralee and Dabney Coleman as Mr. Hart, the show opened on Broadway in 2009. Parton, who wrote the hit song "9 to 5," created a dozen more songs for the musical.
"It's set in 1979 -- same time period as the movie -- and we've really played up the costumes," Kocher said. "For the ladies, that definitely means big hair. And for me, we got a big, blond Dolly Parton style wig. Plus all the old-fashioned typewriters and office décor."
Playhouse Merced's production is directed by Rob Hypes, musically directed by Joel Scott Shade, choreographed by the late Cervantes and Noelle Chandler, and features Central Valley actors Alicia Bohlke as Violet, Rachel Rodrigues as Judy, Kocher as Doralee and Dusty Guthier as Mr. Hart.
In addition, the show features a supporting cast of actors, singers and dancers, with costumes and sets provided by Corey Strauss.
"It's bright, it's colorful, it's fun," Rodrigues said. "The music is pure Dolly, and it's a blast. The set is supersimple, which leaves us plenty of room to fill it up with all the characters. Rob isn't letting any of us hold back.
"Chenté had some beautiful dances choreographed before he passed, and add that to the bits that Noelle filled in, and it's all just spectacular. I also love all of my costumes. Corey and Dianne just made everyone shine," Rodrigues said.
Kocher is excited to be part of the play.
"I've always loved the movie," she said. "It's so silly and crazy and really, really fun. I've always loved Dolly Parton, so to be able to play a character that is based on her, and to be able to sing her songs, I was especially excited to have been cast in this show.
"It seems like we've come a long way since 1979, so it's funny to be able to look at Mr. Hart and laugh at him," Kocher said. "We hope people will come out and just have a great, silly, fun time at the theater."
If You Go: 9 to 5: The Musical
WHEN: Opens today and plays three weekends through Sept. 16 Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Playhouse Merced, 452 W. Main St.
TICKETS: Adults, $20; seniors, $19; students, $10; and children, $8
CALL: (209) 725-8587
RATING: T for teens 13 and above for some language and mature situations.