Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: MARCH 20, 2009
Work. We’ve all got it, want it, hate it, enjoy it, resent it, miss it or wish it were over already. And that’s what “Working” is all about.
In 1974, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel published a book based on his interviews with regular folks all over the country, from every walk of life, getting their takes on their daily tasks. The subtitle of “Working” was: ‘People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.’ In 1978, the book was made into a musical revue that ran briefly on Broadway. After 30 years of nationwide productions, composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz thought it was high-time to revisit and revise the piece. So he accumulated more interviews, adding some newer jobs, like hedge-fund manager, and asked Tony Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda to create a couple of new songs. The result of this update is now playing at the Old Globe, and with employment on everyone’s minds these days, it couldn’t be better timed.
In a series of short scenes, songs and monologues, inventively staged with six versatile and diverse performers, we spend a little time with some two dozen everyday American employees, including a trucker, a stay-at-home Mom, a fireman, a prostitute, a fundraiser, a newsroom assistant, a UPS delivery man and a retiree . All the words and lyrics come almost directly from the interviews. These are tales of job-loving and -loathing, anger, resentment, contentment, hope and wistfulness. There’s something every worker, former worker or wannabe worker can relate to, songs and stories that are touching, funny, sad and sentimental, told in a wide range of musical styles, from country to folk to blues. We hear from a teacher who can’t keep up with the times, a waitress who considers her performance on the job a work of art, a pair of displaced, immigrant caregivers who think they’re doing tasks that families should do.
In one really creative addition, guest director Gordon Greenberg adds Globe employees into the mix, so we watch the stage manager, dressers and four skilled musicians do their work during the show. The set is wonderfully evocative, a cutaway high-rise of six ‘apartments’ separated by a zigzagging staircase. The lighting and projections effectively vary the ambience, and the quick-change costumes are imaginative and character-defining. There are a couple of slow spots in the 90 intermissionless minutes, a few too many potential endings, and a fairly downbeat conclusion. But it’s an attractive and engaging production. And there’s an extra note of relevance and poignancy: Studs Terkel, truly a national treasure, died last October. He’d be happy to know that his work is still Working .
“Working” runs through April 12 at the Old Globe in Balboa Park .
©2009 PAT LAUNER