By Christopher Cavallo, “Working—2012 Revised Version” Assistant Director
“Hey somebody, won’cha turn your head, take a look my way…”
The musical Working began its journey in 1974 when composer Stephen Schwartz came across an advertisement for Studs Terkel’s latest book, a collection of interviews, titled Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. After reading the interviews, Schwartz contacted friend and collaborator Nina Faso with his idea to adapt Terkel’s collection into a musical. In his conversation with Faso, Schwartz said, “One thing that immediately appealed to me about Working was the fact that this was true, that you were going to be hearing from people in their own words.” Schwartz flew to Chicago to meet with longtime radio broadcaster Terkel to share his idea. In that meeting, Terkel stated “I was attracted to his vision. Something told me he had something; it was more than just a musical. It was a celebration of the ‘ordinary’ people, whose daily lives are unsung. He would sing about them, the anonymous many, whose lives touch ours every day without our realizing it.”
Working is just that, it’s a palpable celebration of real people telling their story. Schwartz and his collaborator’s brilliance have ignited the human condition and let us into the lives of these individuals. I find myself, as of late, on my daily commute wondering about the construction worker or the barista or the T operator. What’s their routine? What makes their profession interesting? What makes their profession difficult? What do they walk away with at the end of the day?
When asked about their experience with Working, original cast member, Matt Landers shared, “I remember how powerful the show was. It made you notice how unappreciative people can be. That’s the thing, the depersonalization of people because they are defined by their jobs. You treat a waiter like a waiter, you treat a banker like a banker, you treat a cab driver like a cab driver. But they are all individual people underneath that, and that’s the message of the show. That’s what really made it work.”
As an educator, I feel this show is a vehicle for the musical theatre performer. It challenges the actor and the singer to connect deeper to the text and how to evaluate theatricality. You’ll see tonight the students not commenting on these people but giving voice to these experiences. Schwartz said to composer, Micki Grant, “I read Working and it changed my way of looking at the world.” I hope tonight’s performance allows you to look at the working world through a different lens.
Emerson Stage’s production of Working—2012 Revised Version runs April 18–20 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Tickets are now available at emersontheatres.org or by phone at 617-824-8400. $20 General Public and $10 Emerson Community.