Review: WORKING Reminds Us We Are More Than Our Jobs

By: Jun. 07, 2016

W. Ryan Frenk, Katie Fridsma, John Forgy, and Crystal Sharadin
in WORKING at Main Street Theater in Houston, TX
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography

WORKING is based on Studs Terkel's well-known book of interviews with U.S workers, which presents the working lives of men and women and the meaning that these jobs bring to their lives. This classic musical was first adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso and premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. The show later ran on Broadway briefly before entering the national regional theatre circuit. The show was updated in 2012 with two new songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda, and features the classic numbers from artists such as Stephen Schwartz, Craig Carnelia, and James Taylor.

at Main Street Theater in Houston, TX
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography

WORKING runs at Main Street Theater from May 21 - June 19, 2016. The show, directed by Andrew Ruthven, reflects not only the struggles that we go through as a nation, but hits home on multiple levels with the diverse and hard working citizens of Houston.

Everyday, millions of Houstonians make the long trek through stop and go traffic to get to a job, one that they may love, despise, or feel indifferent toward, but nonetheless one that they have given meaning to. That meaning may be the resulting satisfaction from a completed project, helping the economy run, providing jobs, constructing hospitals, schools, and corporate buildings, or having an impact on children or those in need. Some of us wake up every morning and drag ourselves to a job that provides little personal satisfaction, to a job that we don't want to identify with, but do so anyway because we see the fruits of our labor at the end of the day in our children's eyes as they get to play, have their fill of food, and feel loved in the comfort of a place you can call home.

Judy Frow and Crystal Sharadin in WORKING
at Main Street Theater in Houston, TX

WORKING at Main Street Theater expresses the different meaning that work has for different people through character vignettes of powerful music and endearing monologues. The setting begins on the subway. The characters are as diverse as Houston, the set is covered in red, white, and blue, city names, including our own, are tiled onto the floor of each side of the stage, and characters of various occupations file in and out of the train. We hear the brakes as the train slows and stops, a voice announces some information overhead, and we are thrust into Schwartz and Faso's wonderful adaptation of Studs Terkel's WORKING.

Kara Greenberg in WORKING
?at Main Street Theater in Houston, TX

The set works for the style of the show. Not so much a revue and not a traditional linear story either, WORKING is a stream of individuals one by one pouring their histories, aspirations, and frustrations onto the stage. Every set piece is mobile, allowing for plenty of space for the actors to travel. There are four red columns resembling the criss-crossed climbing frame of a tower crane, each with a rectangular base on casters. They are strategically moved and placed throughout the stage, providing an effective way to show change of location, while working in tandem with the subtle lighting design. The band was placed upstairs on the north side of the stage and did a fine job supporting each actor's song down below.

The music was memorable and well-executed by the cast. You could easily point out the two new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but they fit in well with the feeling and pacing of the show. Each actor brought their unique personality to their respective roles, which made each song all the more interesting and engaging. John Forgy played the food delivery worker and had unmatched energy as he moved about the stage singing the new song, "Delivery". Later, he gives a moving performance as Charlie Blossom, as he struggles with life, work, while on the brink of mental illness or perhaps suffering from a case of simply being misunderstood.

Terry Jones and Justin White in WORKING at Main Street Theatre in Houston, TX Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography" height="200" src=" fireman.jpg" width="300" />
Terry Jones and Justin White in WORKING
at Main Street Theatre in Houston, TX
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography

Crystal Sharadin plays Roberta Victor, the prostitute who justifies her profession, but not without underpinnings of self-doubt. Sharadin later shares the stage with W. Ryan Frenk during Miranda's "A Very Good Day". They bring the audience to tears as they play Theresa Liu and Uktarsh Trujillo, respectively, as they describe how jobs that most people don't want to do (caring for others) brings them their own sense of joy and happiness. With grace and precision, Justin White plays Rex Winship, a hedge fund manager justifying his self-centeredness by explaining that what he does makes the world go round by making society and the economy function with his large financial transactions. Later he plays a cop-turned-fireman as Tom Patrick and dramatically describes how the feeling of saving a life has given his life meaning. Kara Greenberg as Kate Rushton reminds us how being a stay-at-home-mom is just as much work, if not more, than holding a traditional 9 to 5 during "Just a Housewife", and how our society has erroneously assigned a stigma of this job being unfulfilling, boring, or unimpressive.

Christina Stroup in WORKING at Main Street Theater in Houston, TX Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography" height="387" src=" Christina solo.jpg" width="300" />
Christina Stroup in WORKING
at Main Street Theater in Houston, TX
Photo by Pin Lim/Forest Photography

The entire cast was truly talented. Christina Stroup was impressive as waitress Dolores Dante, Danny Dyer was perfect as the interstate trucker, Terry Jones was moving as retiree Joe Zutty, and Tamara Siler played Maggie Holmes with a magnificent performance of "Cleanin' Women" that will not soon be forgotten.

This wonderful piece directed by Andrew Ruthven shouldn't be missed and will run for two more weekends at Main Street Theater. WORKING is entertaining and moving, and provides a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of our daily working lives while reminding us that we are more than our jobs.

From the book by Studs Terkel
Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso
With additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg
Songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, and James Taylor

2012 Revised Version
Main Street Theater -
Rice Village
2540 Times Blvd.

This production contains strobe and haze effects, including the use of e-cigarettes. The cigarettes do not contain tobacco or nicotine products and only produce a non-toxic vapor.
Children under the age of 5 are not allowed in the theater.
May 21 - June 19
For tickets, please visit

Andrew Ruthven (Director)
Luke Kirkwood (Musical Director)
LA Clevenson (Costume Design)
Claire A. "Jac" Jones (Scenic Design)
Eric L. Marsh (Lighting Design)
Rodney Walsworth (Properties Design)
Alex Worthington (Sound Design)
Janel S. Badrina* (Assistant Stage Manager)
Julie-Marie Paré* (Production Stage Manager)

Daria Allen (Understudy for Maggie Holmes)
Danny Dyer (Frank Decker / Allen Epstein / Ralph Werner)
John Forgy (Freddy Rodriguez / Charlie Blossom)
W. Ryan Frenk (Raj Chadha / Utkarsh Trujillo)
Katie Fridsma (Amanda McKenny / Grace Clements)
Judy Frow (Rose Hoffman / Candy Cottingham)
Kara Greenberg* (Terry Mason / Kate Rushton)
Terry Jones (Anthony Coelho / Joe Zutty)
Crystal Sharadin (Roberta Victor / Theresa Liu)
Tamara Siler (Maggie Holmes)
Christina Stroup* (Sharon Atkins / Delores Dante)
David Wald* (Mike Dillard / Conrad Swibel / Eddie Jaffe)
Justin White (Rex Winship / Mason Singer/ Tom Patrick)