Sunday, May 8, 2011

Working at the Broadway Playhouse

“I hear America singing” are the words sung by workers at the beginning of “Working”. A musical based on the stories of Studs Terkel that is currently enjoying an open run production at the Broadway Playhouse. With those words you feel a collective voice joined together to show that everyone no matter how big or small their jobs contributes to the foundation of America.

The show originated on Broadway in 1978 and had an impressive starry cast featuring Joe Mantegna, Bob Gunton, Lynn Thigpen, and Patti LuPone and closed after 24 performances and 12 previews. The show had invited many famous songwriters to contribute to the piece with music provided by Stephen Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, Mary Rodgers, and James Taylor. However a cast recording and a PBS video with a different cast were made to see that the show would survive and be done again.

This updated version of the show has been revised with a current sensibility and some of the songs from the original were dropped such as “Neat to Be a Newsboy,” “Lovin' All,” and “Un Mejor Dia Vendra” with two songs “Delivery” and “A Very Good Day” written by “In the Heights” Lin-Manuel Miranda” who has a contemporary style that can be picked up within the first few notes.

The problem with the show more then the production is that after the first few monologues there is a repetition that creeps in and feels like it could have ended in thirty minutes. The business man sells the joys and the pains of his job, then the schoolteacher does the same, then the fireman, and so forth which would have been fine if you had more variation in the songs However with a lot of the songs sounding like easy listening ballads it doubles on the repetition of the monologues.

However, that aside there is a lot in this show to enjoy and this is an excellent production, from director Gordon Greenberg's concept of having the show start off with the actors getting ready in a way to show that they are just as much part of the this world as every other character that they inhabit.

Also another joy to be found in this production are the actors who transition with ease from worker to worker and give us fully realized characters. All of the Chicago actors are a nice mix of local stars with some outstanding newcomers. E. Faye Butler shines in the hooker monologue and stops the show with her song “Cleanin Women” displaying that huge belt she always does, Gene Weygandt does a touching rendition of the ballad “Fathers and Sons” and shines in his scenes. A new addition to the cast Rebecca Finnegan, who is replacing Barbara Robertson has some great comedic moments and gets to display another powerhouse voice during her big solo “It's an Art,” Emjoy Gavino gets the show's best number “Millwork” and delivers it with sensitivity and grace, Michael Mahler has a great comedic monologue about his career as a hedge fund manager and also does a nice job on “The Mason,” and Gabriel Ruiz brings comedic gold as an ex-newsroom assistant while handling one of the newer songs “A Very Good Day” with the right amount of emotion.

The stories told though Studs Terkel's interviews show a collection of people wanting to make their mark in the world and prove their usefulness. They take pride in their common goals and show that there is so much more about someone then what they do. It's something that can hook an audience and is easily identifiable to anyone seeing the show. I just wished it would have shown some variation in both the monologues and songs in order to build the show's structure to what it could have been.

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