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Theater Review: ACT Production Employs Updated, Localized ‘Working’ To Great Effect

Published: March 01, 2019 at 07:00 am

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RIDGEFIELD — Stephen Schwartz’s Working, A Musical, based on the Studs Terkel book with the same title, has been updated and localized by Director Daniel C. Levine and is now on stage at ACT of Connecticut. In its new form, the show offers an intimate and personalized glimpse into the lives of the workers who make our world go ‘round.

Mr Levine has a longstanding appreciation for Schwartz’s original Working, which appeared on Broadway in 1977. The musical took words from the mouths of local wage earners and brought attention to their experience.

Devising lyrics from interviews, composers such as Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers, Craig Carnelia, and Lin-Manuel Miranda then set them to music. The individual musical numbers not only shed light on those we encounter in our everyday lives, they also string together a story of connection.

Mr Levine has revamped this musical, in collaboration with Mr Schwartz, to make it more relatable in its suburban location by featuring members of the community in which he resides. He interviewed a lovely woman working at CVS, who explains why she smiles all the time; the car service owner/driver whose life is dedicated to those he lends an ear to while chauffeuring them; as well as the would-be fashion designer who runs a deli with her husband, among others.

All these interviews play out on screens that slide on and off stage, contextualizing the production, making the message more palpable. Mr Levine introduces the idea of other communities showcasing their “workers” with individualized productions of this timeless musical.

The cast is uniformly strong and vocally gifted. Cast members include Brad Greer, Cooper Grodin, Andre Jordan, Monica Ramirez, Zuri Washington, and Laura Woyaz. Each player brings energy and verve to their role, moving effortlessly from one scenario to the next while capturing the emotional attachment their characters have to their working lives.

Each number is distinguished by each performer’s depth of commitment to their characters. They beautifully portray the anguish, humor, and dedication of the individuals they portray. With songs written by different composers as well, each offers a unique take on the subject of working for a living.

Designed by Jack Mehler, the set is spare, allowing the video screens to be a focal point. Rolling metal structures and stairs are well-used to create different spaces, which works well to easily differentiate the pieces that play out in rapid succession.

Likewise, costume designer Brenda Phelps has carefully edited the costumes for maximum effect and quick changes.

A live orchestra, under the direction of Dan Pardo, is superb accompaniment for the skilled performers. Choreographer Chip Abbott has applied the exact right degree of complexity to the performance. The overall effect is a pace that captivates the audience.

Mr Levine is to be commended for his efforts to take this musical to another level. The result is a compassionate and moving musical experience.

The first season at ACT continues its impressive run. Get your tickets while they last.

Performances continue through March 10, with most remaining shows already sold out. As of February 28, limited tickets were still available for Friday and Saturday, March 1-2, at 8 pm; and Sunday, March 3, at 7 pm. 

Tickets range from $56 to $72. For reservations visit actofct.org.

The theater is also offering a Meet-up opportunity surrounding the Friday, March 1 performance. Meet-up tickets — which include the show as well as an opportunity to meet Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine or Executive Director Katie Diamond before the show, a brief talkback session with two members of the cast following the performance, and one drink — are available by contacting the box office at boxoffice@actofct.org or 475-215-5433.

 

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