Review: 'Working: A Musical' Is Minimalist, Meaningful
Why do we work? It's usually for more than money. To express ourselves, perhaps. To make a better life for our children. To create a legacy. To contribute to our country, our society. We can love our jobs or hate our jobs, but our reasons for working and our emotions about our jobs – which take up so much of our lives – are always deeply felt.
To explore these reasons fully, the author Studs Terkel crisscrossed America in the early 1970s recording more than 130 people in all kinds of jobs, from blue collar to professional. The result was a best-selling book – "Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do" (published in 1974) – which was subsequently made into a musical. Over the years that musical, "Working," has been revised a number of times and presented all over the world.
A version of the 2012 revision with a score by multiple composers is now being presented at the Unicorn Theatre by the Berkshire Theatre Group. It's an excellent, though sparse, production that frequently cuts across the footlights and into our emotions. What comes through above all are the feelings and sincerity of the characters, all of whom are speaking the words of the workers first interviewed decades ago. We quickly realize that little has changed in the working world.
Except for 10 chairs, the stage is bare when we enter the theater. At the rear are five windows that resemble tellers windows at a bank complete with computer screens. The five people sitting behind them are members of the orchestra – too small, as everywhere these days, but composed of fine musicians led by Casey Reed.
After an opening number, "All The Livelong Day" written by Stephen Schwartz, the characters speak to us, sing or dance, one by one or in small groups. Particularly excellent is Denis Lambert. He has such a powerful presence it seems as though he is talking about himself. He's also a terrific singer and dancer as well. Farah Alvin as a teacher singing a song by Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead and as a housewife (song by Craig Carnelia) is also very strong. Miles Wilkie, still in college and one of only two non-equity member of the cast, was most impressive as a retiree with growing dementia and as a UPS delivery man who loves to sneak up on people and scare them.
A particularly convincing and entertaining number by James Taylor about millworkers is sung and danced by the full company. Included are the tedious actions the workers must perform within 40 seconds and repeat them over and over all day long. Ashley DeLane Burger choreographed that number and also a song by Micki Grant about cleaning women who inventively dance with brooms.
"Working" has no plot, per se. Rather, the songs by various composers and lyricists (including Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as those listed above) and soliloquies are tied together by dialogue or a character from the previous scene. Under the direction of James Barry, the show flows smoothly. It is a wonderful – and meaningful – evening in the theater. Everyone needs "Something To Point To" as the final song tells us.
"Working" runs at the Unicorn Theatre of the Berkshire Theatre Group through Aug. 24.
Book by Studs Terkel; Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg; Songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and James Tayloe. Directed by James Barry; Musical Direction by Casey Reed; Choreography by Ashley DeLane Burger; Scenic and Projections Design by Nicholas Hussong; Costume Design by Asta Bennie Hostetter; Lighting Design by Oliver Wason; Sound Design by Nathan Leigh. With Farah Alvin, Katie Birenboim, Erica Dorgler, Julie Foldesi, Tim Jones, Deven Kolluri, Denis Lambert, Jaygee Macapugay, Rob Morrison and Miles Wilkie.
Tags: Berkshire Theatre Group, theater,