COURTESY OF JIM COATES
After renowned American author, historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel set out to record an oral history of working class America, he came to describe the interviews he conducted as “the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people.”
In the Keegan Theatre’s production of “Working — A Musical,” the spotlight is on those ordinary people, offering them a chance to truly shine in this new adaptation of Terkel’s original work by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso. The play was directed by D.C. local Shirley Serotsky.
The musical explores the experiences of working Americans through a series of funny, touching and insightful vignettes. Concentrating on the hopes, dreams and tribulations of a diverse cast of people, “Working” reveals the inner dialogues of these individuals, highlighting their relationships to work and how it defines them.
In an early scene, a construction worker explains how he got his start in the trade and how much pride and joy he derives from building something as majestic and enduring as a skyscraper. Another scene features a teenage delivery boy, bemoaning his thankless job (aside from the tip, of course) while dreaming of a more exciting future; scenes such as these truly capture the wide and varied spectrum of the American work experience and its relationship to the American dream.
The musical numbers also reflect the diversity in life and thought, having been composed by many contributors such as singer/songwriter James Taylor and Oscar-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show contains classic Broadway stylings such as “All the Livelong Day” to a soulful Motown number like “Cleanin’ Women.” It is with these numbers that the characters shine, as they elevate the common workers who are taken for granted in our everyday lives, forcing us to truly see them and listen to their worthwhile testimonies on life.
The aforementioned “Cleanin’ Women” and the equally upbeat and spectacular “It’s An Art” are two instances in which characters with jobs typically considered menial by society, a cleaning lady (played by soulful AU graduate Tia-Cherie Dolet) and a waitress (played by the charming Sherry Berg) invert such perceptions with powerful affirmations of their work in entertainingly stirring songs.
Other numbers feature deeper explorations on work and its relation to identity, with a stay-at-home mom debating the significance of her work in the touching “Just a Housewife” (Berg) and a working father (Mike Kozemchak) expressing his bittersweet experience in “Fathers and Sons.”
In “Working,” the Keegan Theatre delivers a moving rendition of the people’s musical. The bare cinderblock walls of its stage and its overall modest staging perfectly complements the motifs of working America. In simply focusing on these honest portrayals of the ambitions of everyday people, this production does justice to the work and people that Terkel dedicated his life to chronicling.
In its final number “Something to Point To,” the chorus sings of the satisfying nature of the product of one’s work. With “Working — A Musical” the Keegan Theatre has crafted something sincere and wonderful.