Opening in Chicago in 1977 and in 1978 on Broadway, Working A Musical, has gone through many changes and revisions in the past 30 odd years. Co- Creator Stephen Schwartz with many other composers have taken the book by Studs Terkel book, “Working: People talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do”, and put songs to the stories. Working has long been a favourite musical of mine, the stories of everyday people who are overlooked most of the time. I have seen several incarnations of this show, from the original, to the Australiana version which was re-written in collaboration with Stephen Schwartz, by Magnormos and now we have the revised version. This new revised version of Working has a couple of new songs and has had a couple deleted. Unfortunately, my favourite in the show has been deleted – the checkout girls’ song was one of the punchiest in the show. This shorter version only goes for about 90 minutes and is usually performed as one act. Phoenix Theatre Company decided to put in an intermission and give us two acts.
The director’s use of boxes throughout the production was a bit clumsy and distracting from the action. If the boxes had casters on them it would have allowed them to be moved a lot easier and less distracting. The set as a whole worked well with the different levels, and it was good to see them utilized as much as they were. I also believe that Craig Maloney’s direction didn’t bring the characters of every song/scene through, relying more on funny accents and gimmicks with the overhead projections. I did like the way they used the headlights for Brother Trucker, and at the end how the boxes all came together to create a building – a really agreeable effect.
Musical director John Clancy had a great sounding band. Opening night was severely impeded by a lot of mic problems: a constant hissing for at least the first 5 minutes made it impossible to hear what anyone was singing. This venue isn’t that large, so perhaps they should have just turned all the mics off and turned the band down a bit and let the cast use their projection. The problems didn’t stop there with mics dropping in and out throughout the evening.
The lighting design by Yaz Sesta was really lovely, and suitable for a production of this type. There seemed to be issues with late cues coming up after someone started talking or singing – maybe opening night tech issues. Costuming was minimal but effective, with sometimes just a hat being added to distinguish characters.
The men in the ensemble seemed to struggle through act one, but in act two, we saw some more polished performances. Highlights included James Gilmour’s song ‘The Mason’ and Gordon Lyall’s Joe. The ladies of the ensemble were very entertaining. Katie Packer’s song ‘Just a Housewife’ and Rowena Brown’s ‘Millwork’ were the highlights of the show. Packer gave us an emotion filled song, explaining that she is ‘just’ a house wife and how unappreciated that can make you feel at times. Brown had a great connection with her character, engaging us in what her life was like doing the same movements every 40 seconds, how she felt, and why she did had to be there. It really made you feel for her and her pain – congratulations on a great performance.
All in all, this production of Working has its high and low moments, but it was still an enjoyable show. I believe that if the company can solve their sound issues, the shows will be a lot more enjoyable
Working continues at the Playhouse Theatre in Doncaster until Sat June 6th.