Off-Broadway Theater Review: WORKING: A MUSICAL (59E59)

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by Sarah Taylor Ellis on December 17, 2012

in Theater-New York

WORKING TOO HARD

The actors mingle around onstage dressing room tables as the audience takes their seats. The stage manager (Rebecca McBee) calls cues from a corner upstage. Even the band, led by the vibrant Alex Lacamoire, is partially visible atop a platform on the industrial set, designed by Beowulf Borit.

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of WORKING at 59E59

It feels appropriate that Working: A Musical, adapted from Studs Terkel’s 1974 nonfiction book about working class Americans, should also emphasize the theater as a type of work. Director Gordon Greenberg’s concept for this updated version of the 1978 musical is initially gripping. Unfortunately, the cast and crew are laboring over a show whose revue format begins to feel repetitive about halfway through – and the show is only 95 minutes long.

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of WORKING at 59E59

Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso’s musical adaptation of Terkel’s book – freshly updated for the post-Occupy Wall Street era – moves between monologues and songs by Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, and James Taylor. The versatile ensemble of actors performs a variety of careers, with stagehands occasionally appearing to help them change costumes before our eyes.

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of WORKING at 59E59

Kanita R. Miller flips her physicality from an upstanding housewife to a down and dirty prostitute in a matter of seconds; Nehal Johnson raps “Delivery” as a fast food worker, but later intones a gentle lullaby (“A Very Good Day”) as an elder care worker; Joe Cassidy seems to defy age, playing both a staunch iron worker and a sickly old man (“Joe”). While Donna Lynne Champlin is pigeonholed in the quirkiest roles, her impeccable comedic timing makes her a natural choice for songs such as the waitress’ free-wheeling “It’s an Art.”

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of WORKING at 59E59

I was most taken by the theatricalization of James Taylor’s contributions to the show. Jay Armstrong Johnson and the ensemble revved up the musical with “Brother Trucker,” while Marie-France Arcilla’s “Millwork” – sung in a soft, Southern twang – made beautiful use of Josh Rhodes’ gestural choreography, turning the repetitive mill work into a skilled art.

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of WORKING at 59E59

However chameleon-like the cast, Working show is a decidedly uneven collection of monologues and songs. Rather than growing increasingly insightful, Working peaks early in the agglomeration of workers’ experiences and grows increasingly mundane and tired over the course of the show. Despite updates, Working may never fully “work” as a show – but for a musical theater devotee, this solid production by Prospect Theater Company is worth a watch.

Sarah Taylor Ellis’ Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of WORKING at 59E59photos by Richard Termine

Working: A Musical
Prospect Theater Company
59E59 Theaters
ends on December 30, 2012
for tickets, visit 59E59

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

schwartzfiend December 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

I don’t think there is an actor named Grace Clements in the show. You probably mean Marie-France Arcilla.

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Tony Frankel December 22, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Thanks for noticing. It has been corrected.

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