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Working the Musical - photos and review

Photos by Stephanie Howard courtesy of American Theatre Company of Chicago from their production of Working, Nov 15, 2000 - January 14 2001. Studs Terkel, author of the book Working, attended the show and said it was the best he's seen.

The staging and artistic use of light in this production contributed to its richness and success.

Robyn Payne in Workingd1

Foreground: Robyn Payne sings passionately about being the last one in her family to be a cleaning woman.

Jennifer haering in Workingd2

Jennifer Haering sings Stephen Schwartz's song "It's An Art" in her role as waitress.

Tom Geraty in Workingd3

Tom Geraty performed a variety of roles in the show. Marty Higginbotham plays guitar in the background.

Matthew Brumlow in Workingd4

In the trucker scene, with stage lights dimmed, two performers dance and sing James Taylor's "Brother Trucker" tune while flashlights pan across the stage giving the appearance of headlights.

James Leaming in Workingd5

Matthew Brumlow and James Leaming boogy to the joyful music.

When WORKING Works: A Review by Carol de Giere

Review of WORKING production by American Theatre Company of Chicago, Nov 15, 2000 - January 14 2001, based on revised script with several new songs.

When I go to a show I try to lock my analytical mind in a closet and absorb myself in the experience. If a show doesn't "work" for me, my mind breaks out of the closet and tries to salvage something worthwhile from the evening. But I was thoroughly entertained by the whole experience of the production of WORKING November 25 by the American Theater Company (Chicago).

There was never a moment I felt a lack in either the show or the high powered performances. While in the past I've been critical of professionally acted shows, preferring the homey and more intimate spirit of amateur theatre, this production was cozy and never so glossy that I felt distanced. The racially integrated cast of 12 tapped the emotions appropriate for each of the multiple rolls they played-showing their skill and adaptability. I appreciated the seamless feeling of both the staging and the revised script. Nothing appeared "put together with spit and chewing gum," (an expression Stephen Schwartz likes to use when a show isn't seamless).

As proof that I was not the only one impressed, I listened to some of the conversations of audience members around me during intermission and after the show. First of all there was a quality to the atmosphere that was unusual in my experience, almost more like the atmosphere after a fantastic public speaker has "raised consciousness" of the audience. It was as if the people genuinely felt some awakening in their thinking in terms of the topic matter of the show. One woman said, "Oh I know a grocery store checker like that," and others would comment on what a difference it makes to be around someone who loves their job.

During the show, too, it was obvious that the performers were doing justice to a carefully constructed script, because the humor lines came through, as I hadn't seen before. While loving Al and the UPS deliveryman received the greatest attention and smile, some of the faces made by the operator and others inspired delight and recognition.

I confess my analytical brain picked up a couple of show details, but it wasn't due to boredom. The show got off to a great start with the soloist in the first song on the upper platform above the other players. He sings, "Hey somebody do you want to hear the story of my life." Setting him off like gave an immediate yet natural sense that--oh, listen to this, it kind of explains why I'm here and these people are singing. Ever scene after this seemed to have a seamless flow, such as when the actor from an upcoming scene would slip into the darkness behind the spotlighted performer, then the performer, who would normally slip offstage abruptly, lingered through part of the next scene. A number of times back up singers would float above the main scene on a higher platform. It was a playful effect, done in kind of a camp way that worked.

A little bit of fog and giant flashlights created one of the more spectacular and yet simple special effects I've seen on stage. During the Trucker song two truckers boogied in the near darkness while the flashlights slowly criss-crossed the stage producing the mood of driving a truck on the highway at night. That reminds me of another effect--the smell of newly sawed wood that filled the theatre at the opening of the show, which, when accompanied by sound effects of factory work, really put us in a frame of mind appropriate for the show.

Although the small crowd of 60 people at the early show of WORKING that Saturday didn't offer a standing ovation, it was probably due to shyness in the small group rather than to lack of appreciation. Everyone sincerely applauded the efforts of director Brian Russell, Music Director Mark Elliott, and the cast and crew from ATC. They truly created something to point to.