Working the Musical

 When we were debating the package deals for becoming subscribers with Broadway in Chicago, one thing that was making us hold off was this show.  What was it?  It sounds old.  Out of date I bet.  But Stephen Schwartz did the music.  Crud.  Fine.  We’ll deal if we don’t like it.

Also, I had no idea about the Broadway Playhouse Theater.  I read up about it and it sounded like a nice little theater right off the Magnificent Mile.  I got the CD from the library since it looked like all copies of it in any form of media had been discontinued.  And then I proceeded to NEVER listen to it.  And I’m so glad I didn’t because this was a pleasant surprise from a show!

The tagline of Working is “The perfect musical for everyone who has ever worked a day in their lives”.  And this is so true.  There are countless characters that are portrayed by the six actors on stage, beginning with someone everyone recognizes, the McDonald’s clerk.

The premise of Working comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning author and Chicago radio broadcaster, Studs Terkel.  Back in the 1970’s he asked many people one simple question:  “What kind of work do you do?”  The variety of answers make you feel happy for some, sad and shameful for others, but most importantly it makes you think about your own life, and your own job.  Does “work” mean just your job to you?  Or is there more to it than that?  I love how this show really touched me in numerous different ways.

Before the actual show though you have to take in the Broadway Playhouse Theater.  It’s amazing.  I love smaller venues – sometimes the larger ones aren’t so good for shows with spoken parts in them.  And sometimes the acoustics are even bad for music.  But here it was crystal clear.  The seats were comfy and the spacing was just right that there was no bobbing of heads this way and that to be able to see the scene taking place.  The set was fascinating to watch.  Yes, I said *watch*.  It was divided up into 6 cubes that showed the behind the scenes of the actors and actresses getting ready for the show.  Also, the person that does the audio for the beginning of the show was in plain sight and we got to hear her announcements to lights, sound and cast which was neat to me because I love seeing and hearing the stuff you don’t normally get to.

The show was approximately 90 minutes long and no intermission.  Which was perfect.  It moved very quickly between the characters.  We saw a trucker.  We heard a hooker sing about how her life is.  A fireman in distress about what he sees day in and day out.  A housewife (which I cringed every time I heard this term, but it was done in the 80’s) sang about how she has no friends and her life is dull and never for herself.  An older teacher that couldn’t connect with her kids anymore – so she use to love teaching and now loathes it and it scared of her children.  A 19 year old graduate that has a fresh new business degree and thinks he’s going to conquer the world – but we all know how that turns out for most of them!  One I really loved was the older waitress.  Picture that older lady that’s in the diner you love – her attitude is always chipper, she’s always prompt, she’s seen it all in there, and nothing will get her down!  This was someone I think about when I enter a place like IHOP such as the Bagel or Melrose Diner here in Chicago.  How does she maintain that attitude?  I would HATE doing this and she looks content.  Oh, and this “older” lady, does the splits at the end.  She’s that good of a waitress!

The cast was phenomenal to say the least.  Barbara Robertson, would played the parts such as the teacher and waitress, was a hoot and can play any age young or old!  E. Faye Butler can move and be sexy and belt out those numbers.  One of the most moving numbers was by Gene Weygandt, who Chicago remembers are the Wizard in Chicago’s run of Wicked.  He played a retiree who most definitely was regretting the decision of quitting work, something we all supposedly long for one day.  Basically he lost his wife, his friends, and frankly his reason for living.  And then we all wanted to go visit our grandparents after that!  Amazing job.

To sum up, this is the show I could have cared less about and it’s the one I’ve enjoyed from this season’s run the most.  From the theater itself, the premise of it, the cast, and the way it still makes me think about it at least 3-4 times a week while I’m in my own job or observing the workings of others.  I hope this goes somewhere because with our economy and job losses lately, it is as relevant today as it was 24 years ago when it first hit Broadway.