Review: Theatre on the Square's 'Working'

October 7, 2011
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

While there are more polished tuners and more accomplished productions around, there are few musicals as good for the soul as"Working."

If you've ever worked a day in your life, try to get to it at Theatre on the Square before it closes Oct. 29.

The show has gone through many permutations since it opened—and tanked—on Broadway back in 1979. Then and now, it’s anchored in Studs Terkel’s book, in which the legendary Chicago writer gave voice to a wide range of working people. From the construction worker to the prostitute and the firefighter to the newspaper delivery boy, Terkel patiently interviewed and then respectfully transcribed and edited these voices into a sympathetic, complicated, page-turning mosaic built from the jobs we do and the reasons why we do them.

The musical version honchoed by Stephen Schwartz, mixes monologues and character songs, wisely avoiding a narrative through-line in favor of a theatrical variation on the style that worked so well in the book. Then and now, “Working” is a parade of sketches, some funny, some insightful, some painful.

By nature, the results have always been hit and miss. But quality control isn’t the only reason for revision. Since work life changes through the years, “Working” could easily turn into a period piece. Do any hotels still have switchboard operators?  

Some of the changes in the most recent version, though, seem more about thrift. In an unintentional parallel to many a workforce, “Working” has been downsized through the years. What was originally staged with a company of 17 (including Joe Montegna and a non-singing Patti LuPone) now is down to six, which may make it more manageable for small theaters but takes away some of its authenticity.

Theatre on the Square’s production is strongest when the actors aren’t overtly playing characters different from themselves. And the material is strongest when it’s not trying to be cutesy.

For instance, even though I come from a long line of restaurant workers, the “It’s an Art” waitress song never worked for me in any production (and is particularly awkward here). But when it comes to the somber “Millworker” song (penned by James Taylor and beautifully staged here) or the melancholy anthem for all compromisers “If I Could’ve Been,” the show becomes deeply moving.

Fans of “Working” may miss the cut Lovin’ Al and his parking prowess, or the migrant worker song “Un Mejor Dia Vendra,” but plenty of the original material still plays. I’m glad I had the chance to reacquaint myself with Joe the retiree as he outlines his day, celebrate the determination and Aretha Franklin-like sound of the cleaning women, and, once again, have my heart shaken by the here’s-why-we-do-this song “Fathers and Sons.”

In those moments, “Working” isn’t just entertaining and effecting. It feels almost essential. And well worth revising…and revivals. For more details click here.

Your thoughts?

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this blog

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
  1. Gay marriage is coming, whether or not these bigots and zealots like it or not. We must work to ensure future generations remember the likes of Greg Zoeller like they do the racists of our past...in shame.

  2. Perhaps a diagram of all the network connections of all politicians to their supporters and those who are elite/wealthy and how they have voted on bills that may have benefited their supporters. The truth may hurt, but there are no non-disclosures in government.

  3. I'm sure these lawyers were having problems coming up with any non-religious reason to ban same-sex marriage. I've asked proponents of this ban the question many times and the only answers I have received were religious reasons. Quite often the reason had to do with marriage to a pet or marriage between a group even though those have nothing at all to do with this. I'm looking forward to less discrimination in our state soon!

  4. They never let go of the "make babies" argument. It fails instantaneously because a considerable percentage of heterosexual marriages don't produce any children either. Although if someone wants to pass a law that any couple, heterosexual or homosexual, cannot be legally married (and therefore not utilize all legal, financial, and tax benefits that come with it) until they have produced a biological child, that would be fun to see as a spectator. "All this is a reflection of biology," Fisher answered. "Men and women make babies, same-sex couples do not... we have to have a mechanism to regulate that, and marriage is that mechanism." The civil contract called marriage does NOTHING to regulate babymaking, whether purposefully or accidental. These conservatives really need to understand that sex education and access to birth control do far more to regulate babymaking in this country. Moreover, last I checked, same-sex couples can make babies in a variety of ways, and none of them are by accident. Same-sex couples often foster and adopt the children produced by the many accidental pregnancies from mixed-sex couples who have failed at self-regulating their babymaking capabilities.

  5. Every parent I know with kids from 6 -12 has 98.3 on its car radio all the time!! Even when my daughter isn't in the car I sometimes forget to change stations. Not everybody wants to pay for satellite radio. This will be a huge disappointment to my 9 year old. And to me - there's so many songs on the radio that I don't want her listening to.

ADVERTISEMENT