Director Gordon Greenberg Talks About New Revision of Musical Working, Bowing in Chicago in 2011
By Kenneth Jones
Tickets are now on sale for the new spring 2011 Chicago production of Working, a revised version of the late-1970s musical inspired by Studs Terkel's book of oral histories of Americans and their occupations. Gordon Greenberg (Pirates! and Off-Broadway's Jacques Brel) directs, and shared some thoughts about re-working the cult-hit title.
Broadway In Chicago and commercial producers Jed Bernstein, Dianne Fraser and Sheila Simon Geltzer announced initial casting for one-half of the six-actor company in September. Performances — featuring Chicago stars E. Faye Butler, Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt — begin Feb. 15, 2011, at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago. Additional casting and creative-team members will be announced. Tickets are on sale to May 8, 2011, according to the Broadway In Chicago website.
This new Working is adapted by Wicked, Godspell and Pippin writer Stephen Schwartz (co-creator of the original production) and Nina Faso. Scenic design is by Beowulf Boritt. The new music arrangements and new orchestrations are by Alex Lacamoire. The music director is Mark Hartman. Josh Rhodes is choreographer.
The Windy City run is a test production leading to a wider commercial life for the refreshed 1978 Broadway show, which has contributions from a variety of pop and theatre songwriters. Some of the standouts from the original score include "Just a Housewife," "The Mason" and "It's an Art." Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won a Best Score Tony for In the Heights, has contributed two new songs to the project.
Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Chicago hero Terkel, Working, according to the producers, is "a musical exploration of 26 people from all walks of life," with songs by all-star composers Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Tony Award-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and Grammy Award-winning James Taylor. "Working celebrates everyday people, fills you with hope and inspiration and is the perfect musical for anyone who has ever worked a day in their lives."
Director Greenberg told Playbill.com, "Stephen and I first started talking about a new production of Working almost ten years ago, while we were in the midst of reworking The Baker's Wife with the wonderful Joe Stein. The initial idea was to update all the professions in favor of quirky uber-contemporary careers. It soon became clear, however, that the strength of the show was in the core truths that transcended specific professions — that people's relationships to their work ultimately revealed key aspects of their humanity, regardless of the trappings of the job itself. So, although the show is still set in contemporary America, it contains timeless truths."
The collaborators talked of doing the new production with just four people, "shrinking the cast for both ideological and practical reasons." Greenberg explained, "By having fewer actors playing more roles, we could further underline the notion that we are all the same under the skin — that the urge to find meaning and transcendence through work is at the heart of every profession at every socioeconomic level."
For developmental productions at Asolo Rep in Florida in May 2008 and The Old Globe in San Diego in March 2009, Greenberg explained, "We expanded the cast to six and featured more and more of the production [trappings] on stage — from the stage manager to the dressers. Exposing the bones — or 'workings' — of the production became a key part of the excitement of this production. Watching actors transform in front of our eyes makes this a great platform for a group of six extraordinary actors and invites the audience into their process, watching on stage and backstage simultaneously."
In developing the new version, Greenberg visited the Chicago Historical Museum "and was able to read through all of Studs Terkel's original interview transcripts," the director said. "We added new characters and text from his notes and documents, edited out others — the show now runs just 90 minutes in one act — cut several songs and added two fantastic new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda…"
E. Faye Butler (Woman 2) is the winner of six Joseph Jefferson Awards. Her Chicago credits include Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors; The Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol; Steppenwolf Theatre's Crumbs From the Table of Joy; Court Theatre's Caroline or Change; Chicago Shakespeare's Seussical The Musical; and Victory Gardens Theatre's Blue Sonata.
Barbara Robertson (Woman 3) played Madame Morrible in Wicked. Chicago credits include Goodman Theatre's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?; Chicago Shakespeare's Kabuki Lady MacBeth; Court Theatre's House of Blue Leaves; Lookingglass Theatre's Hard Times; Steppenwolf's A Summer Remembered; and the national tour of Angels in America.
Gene Weygandt (Man 3) is perhaps best known as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the smash hit Wicked in Chicago and on Broadway. Winner of three Joseph Jefferson Awards, theatre credits include The Music Man, Me and My Girl, The Light In The Piazza, Hairspray, The Drowsy Chaperone, Don't Dress for Dinner and Lend Me a Tenor and Broadway's Big.
The late Studs Terkel, an author and TV and radio host, was best known for his oral histories of ordinary Americans. "The Good War" and "Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel" were two of his best-sellers.
Director Greenberg's credits include Band Geeks! (also co-writer , Goodspeed Musicals), the acclaimed Off-Broadway revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well… (Drama Desk, Drama League, Outer Critics Award nominations, West End London in 2011), Disney's Believe (co-created with Kirsten Childs – Disney Creative Entertainment), Pirates! Or Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder'd (created with Nell Benjamin at Huntington Theatre, Goodspeed, Paper Mill and the Muny in 2012), 33 Variations (Capital Rep), Happy Days (national tour, Boyett Theatricals), 1776 (Paper Mill), Citizens Band (Spiegeltent), Baker's Wife (Paper Mill, Goodspeed) and more.
The Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place is at 175 E. Chestnut in Chicago.
Individual tickets for Working are $67.50-$77.50. A select number of premium seats are also available. Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut St.), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Kiosk at Water Tower Place (845 N. Michigan Ave.), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775‐2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations (including Hot Tix and select Carson Pirie Scott, Coconuts and fye stores), and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com. For groups of 15 or more, call (312) 977‐1710.
Working is a part of the 2011 Broadway In Chicago Spring Season Series.
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