Working: Review Roundup

Donna Lynne Champlin

The latest revisal of the 1977 musical revue Working, adapted from Studs Terkel’s 1974 book, has received generally positive reviews for its Off-Broadway production at 59E59. The creative team includes Stephen Schwartz (book, lyrics, music), Nina Faso (book), Gordon Greenberg (book, direction), Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers & Susan Birkenhead, James Taylor (lyrics, music), Josh Rhodes (choreography), Alex Lacamoire (orchestrations), Daniel Feyer (music direction), Beowulf Borritt (sets), Mattie Ullrich (costumes), Jeff Croiter (lights), Aaron Rhyne (projections), and Jeremy Lee (sound). The cast includes Marie-France Arcilla, Joe Cassidy, Donna Lynne Champlin, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Nehal Joshi, and Kenita Miller.

David Cote (Time Out): When it opened on Broadway, Working was viewed as an unfocused experiment with a gulf between engaging monologues from real laborers and trite songs inspired by their stories. It seems that Schwartz and director Gordon Greenberg have established more tonal connect between speeches and tunes. Reordering the playlist and adding contemporary touches, the result is a thoughtful, bittersweet chamber piece that contrasts genuinely fulfilled subjects (a stonecutter, a waitress) with afflicted ones (a mill worker, a retired senior citizen). … Each performer (juggling multiple characters) works hard, but as with all real pros, the effort doesn’t show.

Jennifer Farrar (AP): The hardworking cast demonstrates wide-ranging talent and diversity as they slip quickly from one character to the next. … One of the most visually impressive scenes is beautifully led by Marie-France Arcilla as luggage factory worker Grace. Arcilla ruefully sings Taylor’s dispirited “Millwork” while the cast robotically mimes an extended, trance-like repetition of the arduous, 40-second routine Grace performs. … Beowulf Boritt’s set design cleverly enlarges the stage by creating a loft for the musicians, running a staircase up one side, and using black netting to create a semi-opaque area at the rear. The life- and work-affirming finale, “Something to Point To” by Carnelia, sums up the show’s simple message: that everyone can find something in their daily work to be proud of.

Erik Haagensen (Back Stage): As in 1978, there is much to admire, especially the strong composite score by seven songwriters, but basic structural problems have not been resolved. … Though Greenberg has shuffled the deck a bit, the order of the songs and stories in Working remains random. … Beowulf Borritt’s simple unit set wastes too much space on an upstage dressing room in which the actors gather as the audience arrives. It’s part of an extraneous directorial overlay pointing out that the actors are also “working,” more evidence that Greenberg has overthought presentation while underthinking dramaturgy. Despite his laudable effort, Working still does not work.

John Lahr (New Yorker): The show, which premièred in 1977, has been refurbished over the years, incorporating modern touches like cubicles and hedge funds and the word “douchebag” and, recently, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who helps. His two songs, about a McDonald’s cashier who loves the freedom of making deliveries and about two immigrant caregivers, add wit, sensitivity, and contemporaneity and make you wish for a show that’s truer to Terkel’s original accomplishment and less of a decades-spanning, too-many-cooks hodgepodge.

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