Working, Revised by Stephen Schwartz, Sings a New Song in Chicago, Starting Feb. 15
By Kenneth Jones
A fresh adaptation of the 1978 Broadway musical Working, inspired by Studs Terkel's best-selling collection of oral histories about vocations, punches in at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in Chicago starting Feb. 15.
The engagement in the Broadway in Chicago season through May 8 is a commercial venture with hope of a future. Gordon Greenberg (Pirates! and Off-Broadway's Jacques Brel) directs. Broadway In Chicago and commercial producers Jed Bernstein, Dianne Fraser and Sheila Simon Geltzer are behind this revised revival, which has new material by Tony Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda.
This new adaptation of Working is 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 Tony Award winner Alex Lacamoire (In the Heights). The music director is Mark Hartman. Josh Rhodes is choreographer.
The Windy City run is a test production leading (the producers hope) 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 Working.
The six-person cast includes Chicago stars E. Faye Butler, Barbara Robertson and Gene Weygandt, along with Michael Mahler, Emjoy Gavino and Juan Gabriel Ruiz, with Demetrios Troy and Genevieve VenJohnson.
Chicago is a fitting place for the next life of Working. The Goodman Theatre produced an early production of the show before it moved to Broadway. Terkel, the radio host and nonfiction writer whose oral histories of everyday Americans ("The Good War," "Working") are beloved, was a Chicago fixture.
Based on the book by Pulitzer Prize winner 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 [late librettist] 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.
Michael Mahler (Man 1) has appeared in Frank Galati's production of 12 Angry Men (Maltz Jupiter Theatre, FL); Tony Kushner's The Illusion (Court Theatre); Magnolia (The Goodman); Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and The Producers (Theatre at the Center, Munster IN); High Fidelity (Route 66 at Piper’s Alley); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Shenandoah (Marriott Lincolnshire); Tomorrow Morning (Greenhouse Theater – Chicago Cast Recording); and more.
Emjoy Gavino (Woman 1), a (soon to be) graduate of the School at Steppenwolf, was recently seen on the stages of Lookingglass Theatre (Arabian Nights), Court Theatre (Wait Until Dark), House Theatre (Wilson Wants it All), The Neo-Futurists (A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol), Theatre Seven (Cooperstown) and is a company member of Barrel of Monkeys (That's Weird Grandma).
Juan Gabriel Ruiz (Man 2) is a graduate of DePaul University's Theatre School and a proud Junior Ensemble member of the critically acclaimed Teatro Vista Theater. His credits include Richard III and Short Shakespeare A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Esperanza Rising at the Goodman, Menorca at 16th Street Theater and the Jeff Award-nominated Our Lady of the Underpass with Teatro Vista.
Understudy Demetrios Troy's Chicago credits include The Seagull and The Good Negro at Goodman Theatre; Awake and Sing! at Northlight; Richard III and Short Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. He was the understudy for Ariel and Ferdinand in The Tempest at Steppenwolf Theatre company. He holds a BA from DePaul University/Barat College and an MFA from the University of South Carolina.
Understudy Genevieve VenJohnson recently she appeared in Annie Get Your Gun, starring Patti LuPone, at the Ravinia Festiva, where she previously appeared in Anyone Can Whistle. At Steppenwolf Theatre, she created the dual roles Mistress Norcomb and Charlotte Norcomb in the world premiere of Harriet Jacobs. Her Goodman credits include The House of Martin Guerre, A Christmas Carol and Drowning Crow. She holds a BFA from SUNY Fredonia, and an MFA from FSU/Asolo Conservatory.
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), 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.
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