BWW Review: WORKING WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY MUSICAL OF THE WORKING CLASS at Powerstories Theatre
Powerstories Theatre did something unexpected to usher in their 20th-anniversary celebration in 2020. On stage last night, the theatre debuted Working A Musical, the first Broadway musical in their history.
With stage direction and an ensemble that was nothing short of perfection, a live band that complemented and didn't overpower the vocals, costumes, choreography, sound and lighting and a set that, despite being in a small area, felt huge, this was a spectacular start to the professional theatre's 20th year of providing true stories to their audiences.
Based on the book by Studs Terkel, Working A Musical wasn't your typical musical. There was no actual plot, no rising action, no twist, no denouement. It was organized in a way that one scene made an easy transition into the next, being directly related to what the earlier character had said. It was a wonderful series of vignettes and songs that gave us a behind-the-scenes close-up look at the person behind the job.
Featuring dozens of seamless scene and costume changes, Working featured 7 actors in multiple roles ranging from housewives, a waitress, a firefighter, cleaning women, a caregiver, elder care worker, and truck drivers, just to name a few.
The versatile cast of Jordan Bertke, Erinn Botz, Paul Crane, Summer Kiesel, Lisa Negron, Omar Negron, and Gershom Vacarizas gave a Broadway-worthy nuanced performance that offered a variety of comedic and dramatic moments, using several different accents to delineate the characters.
Under the skillful helm of director Fran Powers, assistant director Rachel Tew, music director Joseph Scarbrough and choreographer Jennifer Rosoff, each monologue and song in Working was a detailed character study into the "extraordinary dreams of ordinary people."
I can honestly say that there wasn't a moment that I didn't enjoy. The full cast numbers were spectacular, with a perfectly-balanced combination of voice, but it was the individual and small group numbers that really deserved recognition. As there were many, though it is painful to strikethrough my copy, I had to revise a very long review to showcase only my absolute favorites.
"Delivery" was exceptionally performed by Gershom as a delivery boy. My favorite part of the playful choreography was the cast encircling Gershom with their delivery orders. Gershom was the epitome of longing and hope, coupled with determination. His facial expression to "keep the change" was priceless.
Summer shined as the longtime teacher struggling to maintain her authority and compete for attention against cell phones and social media. She spoke her thoughts aloud to us: "Someone forgot to take his Ritalin this morning." "Nobody Tells Me How" told of the frightening transition from her start in education to the present day. We confiscate weapons and drugs at the door, no spitballs and comic books now, They want me to teach in a classroom like that, but nobody tells me how. Summer's high notes left my arms covered in goosebumps. Later she had the audience in stitches when she dove into a lively performance of a sassy waitress who absolutely adored her job in the funny "It's An Art."The sexy, rock and roll "Brother Trucker," with Jordan at the wheel was a fun, high-energy celebration of life on the open road with the ensemble. Jordan later donned a firefighter's uniform. When he revealed the reason he became a firefighter, I heard the audience audibly gasp. It was an amazing, sobering performance.
The tender "Just a Housewife" was utterly relatable and had Lisa apologizing because society saw her role as dull and unambitious because she was only a stay-at-home mom and wife. It was a beautiful blend of vocals with Summer and Erinn.
One of my favorite performances was the moving "Millwork." With Lisa leading Summer, Erinn, and Jordan, it was virtually a ballet. Choreographer Jennifer used the motions of the workers manufacturing luggage to create a hypnotic, rhythmic dance as the cast mimed the repetitive robotic actions behind her. Lisa resignedly explained what it was like to work, day in, day out, in an 8x8 tank that's over 100 degrees, having 40 seconds to complete her task before she has to start again. "May I work this mill just as long as I am able, And never meet the man whose name is on the label."
Omar countered a role as pompous, self-proclaimed money-management 'corporate tool,' to slow the pace down for a hymn to the stoneworker, with an acoustic guitar rendition of "The Mason." His smooth vocals, complemented by his exceptional guitar skills was a moment to remember.
In the emotionally raw "Fathers and Sons," Paul sang some of the most poignant lyrics in the production. "You thought I was the best of men, the tables hadn't turned, you hadn't learned, how little time it takes, and Daddies make mistakes." I think everyone was a little misty after Paul's heartfelt song.
In "Cleanin' Woman," the female cast as domestic workers did a lively song and dance routine. Erin belted out unbelievable notes, wishing to see her daughter escape her life, vowing that the three-generational cycle of domestic work in her family ended with her.
In the final number, "Something to Point To," the cast sang about feeling pride for their accomplishments, no matter how large or small. They can add this production to the list.
This talented ensemble definitely built something that they can be proud of, whose memory will stand the test of time.