The subject of the Theater, Film and Media Studies (TFMS) Department’s spring musical isn’t as glamorous or romantic as the premises of most other musicals. Instead of farcical situations and peppy dance numbers, Working, a musical adapted by Nina Faso and acclaimed Broadway-hitmaker Stephen Schwartz from the book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel, is truly an examination of the book’s subtitle.
While the premise of describing one’s everyday working life seems like it could become tedious or grating, Working manages to infuse the lives of workers you think you know about (rich businessmen, teachers, or waitresses) and those whom you see but don’t see (truck drivers, nannies, and cleaning ladies) with relatable humor and understated poignancy.
Valerie Holt, a sophomore who plays an aging schoolteacher struggling to adapt to the changing teaching methods with a perfect air of condescension, emphasized the musical’s focus on workers whose tasks are relegated to the background. “You don’t see a lawyer. You don’t see a doctor,” she said. “It’s the unsung heroes, the ‘little people.’ It’s about people from all walks of life, people who are satisfied with their job, and people who are dissatisfied.” Included in this range of workers are those who don’t “work” in the traditional sense, such as a stay-at-home mother or a retiree.
Since the musical’s premiere in the late 1970s, it has been tweaked to fit the current times in which it is staged. For example, Kate, the stay-at-home mother portrayed with touching honesty by senior J. Margaret Schmidt, comments, “In my mother’s day, I might have been called a ‘housewife.’”
Professor of TFMS Michael Ellis-Tolaydo, the musical’s director, saw how the themes of Working could be taken within today’s context of an economic recession. “The economic climate is scary… What are you going to do, are you going to end up with a job that makes money, or a job that’s mundane, a job without promotion?” he said. “These are very insecure times, and I believe the play reflects that in one way but it also reflects the positive thinking, as when it was written it says, ‘Look what we’ve built.’ So in a way it’s a comment on America’s industrial and working-class group.”
In the musical’s opening scene, all of the characters come onstage dressed in black jumpsuits and repeating a phrase from their job such as “Order up!” or “Please hold,” until the whole cast created a symphony of spoken word.
From there, each character had his or her moment in the spotlight. Jordan Slattery, a first-year, was impressive in her ability to roller-skate while singing and acting as a clumsy high school student stumbling her way through her first job as a fast-food delivery girl.
Senior Meagan Renee Ragland also achieved a balancing-act. Despite playing such disparate personalities as a truck driver and a cleaning woman, she was able to bring a soulful growl to the songs of both characters.
Junior Kt Henry’s cloying Southern accent was perfect for her her character Delores, a professional waitress who proclaims that her job “is an art” that must be mastered in order to receive good tips.
DeAnna Clements, a senior, led a trio of mill workers in song as they repeated the same movements over and over amidst a smoky stage, in a chilling scene that suggests the inescapable monotony of their jobs.
Junior Austin Dice, as an ironworker, presented the musical’s message by leading the song “Something to Point To,” which emphasized the importance of a tangible result to one’s career, big or small. For the ironworker, his legacies are the skyscrapers — things that people are awed by everyday without thinking of the people who helped make it happen.
Working will be in Bruce Davis Theater in Montgomery Hall from Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27 at 8:00 P.M., and on Sunday, April 28 at 2:00 P.M. Tickets are $4 for students, $6 for general admission.
To reserve tickets, call the Box Office 240-895-4243 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.