Foothill Music Theatre’s Working, directed by Milissa Carey, is a well-polished production that finds breath in a piece that hasn’t aged particularly well. Working is an adaptation by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked and Children of Eden) and Nina Faso of the 1974 book by Studs Terkel. Some incredible composers also contributed the music: Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers & Susan Birkhead, Stephen Schwartz and the formidable, James Taylor.
The piece debuted at the Goodman Theatre, in Chicago, in December 1977 and transferred to Broadway, opening on May 14, 1978. It only played for 12 previews and 24 performances. While it has undergone many revisions since 1978, Working still flounders as a piece that’s relevant. It falls into the category of: “not outdated enough to be charming or cute, and dated enough to not feel applicable”. The teacher and UPS man’s monologues seemed the most outdated out of all of them. What UPS man carries a clipboard and kicks dogs?
Even though the material was lacking, Foothill Music Theatre’s production is impressive at times. “Traffic Jam”, sung by Russell E. Johnson hit every high mark in the song. He nailed it, but I wanted to hear more from the fantastic band, directed by Mark Hanson. If you pump the volume just a bit more, the energy will comfortably hit the back wall in the small Lohman Theatre a lot easier.
Another favorite was Linda Piccone’s interpretation of the school teacher, Rose Hoffman. The monologue was fantastic. Her strong acting kept me transfixed throughout the monologue and subsequent song, “Nobody Tells Me How”.
Kristina Nakagawa’s beautiful, heart-wrenching rendition of “Just a Housewife” made you empathize with every housewife in America. The back-up vocals were delicately balanced throughout the song and left the audience with chills. This was another major highlight of Act 1.
Since a lot of the show felt a little over-choreographed, the moments of stillness were incredibly effective. One of the best moments in the show was the beautifully choreographed song “Millwork”. When the entire cast, in unison, weaved the monotonous motions of the millwork into a beautiful dance, I was overwhelmed with emotion. A beautiful idea that was executed just perfectly.
While, there were several other great songs, (most notably, Jade Shojaee’s hilarious song, “It’s An Art” and Todd Wright’s rendition of, “Joe”) I felt there weren’t many redeeming qualities in the show. It seemed like there was a lot of “bitching at the water cooler” going on and not enough celebration. There are definitely high points in the show, but the low points often overshadowed them.
In any case, it truly does feel like a “musical documentary” — as Stephen Schwartz describes the show. While it hits the nail on some of the characters, it doesn’t dive deep enough into others. Whether that’s the material’s fault or the directors, I’m not too sure. Working gives insight into people’s lives and at the same time, it makes you think about your own career. As the show says, “what you do for a living becomes who you are”. Whether or not it’s true, it does give you something to think about.