BWW Review: WORKING: A MUSICAL at Broad Brook Opera House
We spend a large percentage of our lives working in some way or another. Whether someone works in a trade (Ironworker, Stonemason), an office (Project Manager, Receptionist), in the home, or anywhere in-between, working is something that is an integral part of who we are. For some, a person's profession drives their identity, and for others, a job is just something to pay the bills. In all cases, what we do all day and how we feel about what we do serves as a fascinating study, and one that author, Studs Terkel took on over 40 years ago in his 1974 book Working. In the book, Mr. Terkel interviewed over one hundred American workers of all professions (from Fireman to Hooker) and asked them to talk about their jobs. Soon after, Stephen Schwartz (WICKED, GODSPELL) and Nina Faso adapted the book and collected a stellar group of musicians, including James Taylor, Craig Carnelia and Mary Rodgers to help set some of those stories to music. Thus was born WORKING: A MUSICAL, which the Opera House Players in Broad Brook are performing as the opening show to their 2017-2018 season.
WORKING: A MUSICAL is quite a unique show in that it doesn't tell a cohesive story, or even contain recurring characters (for the most part). Instead, the musical introduces the audience to a continuous stream of monologues and songs that share the stories of real people, talking about their work. There is an underlying theme, however, that work, though it may look and feel different from one person to the next, is vital, and is important to who we are individually, and as a collective society. Over the course of the play, characters introduce themselves and provide an inside look into what it is like to do what they do. From the seasoned teacher who faces changing expectations (and demographics) in her classroom, to the waitress who sees her daily routine as a unique art form, regular Americans share their joys and fears, grounded in their chosen profession. And, the music, since the songs are written by different composers, complements the format of the show (different stories, different styles) and helps keep the momentum of going forward, breaking up the monologues and scenes.
WORKING is a show that provides an entire ensemble opportunities to shine, due to the volume and variety of characters and songs that are fit into the play, and the Opera House Players' production is no exception. A strong ensemble of sixteen "workers" share the stage only on a few occasions (in strong showings during the opening and closing of each act), but the places where this production truly shines is in the intimate moments of each person's story. With such a large and talented cast, it would be hard to note each performance, but a few highlights: Dennis J. Scott, as Mike LeFevre, the steelworker opens the show with a monologue about his work and returns at the end of the second act with a heart-wrenching song, "Fathers and Sons". Mr. Scott has been a favorite in past Opera House Players' production, and his performance in WORKING was no exception. Erica Romeo, another favorite from past productions, shines as well, both in smaller roles (Proofreader, Receptionist, Fundraiser) and in her spotlight scene as waitress, Dolores Dante ("It's an Art"). Additional highlights included the two new songs added by composer Lin-Manuel Miranda ("Delivery" and "A Very Good Day") during the recent update of the show, and each of the songs that feature the whole cast (especially, "If I Coulda Been" and "Something to Point To"). All in all, each cast member brings a special energy to their characters and scenes creating a touching, entertaining, and relatable tribute to these ordinary people.
John Pike's direction is very good, utilizing a bare stage as a blank canvas that transforms into various locales throughout the show. He extracts authentic performances from each of his cast which give the show the emotional authenticity it needs. As projection sequencer, Mr. Pike also creates a visual backdrop for each story that provides just the right touch of scenic reference. The set, as designed by Francisco Aguas, is simple and effective, using muted greys and silhouettes for context. Finally, the orchestra (Directed by Kim Aliczi) is quite strong, with four musicians (one who even gets his own monologue!) who do well with the music of the show.
Overall, WORKING: A MUSICAL is not a show that audiences get to experience every day, but is definitely a show worth seeing. It is not your typical musical, and that's what makes it special. It includes some simple (yet fantastic) songs and stories that everyone can relate to. And, in the hands of the Opera House Players, the show comes to life in a poignant way and makes for a great night of theatre.