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Working the Musical Reworked - 2008 -2011

Updated Working

Stephen Schwartz and colleagues present a new Working.

by Carol de Giere

Working with six actors - Old GlobeEver since Working closed after 25 performances on Broadway, the musical has refused to stay dormant. Something about the unusual nonfiction show has appealed to enough directors that hundreds of productions have been staged in regional, community and high school theaters.

The concept of using only six actors (plus an on-stage stage manager) to play the multiple roles came out of discussions between Stephen Schwartz and director Gordon Greenberg. Greenberg helmed a revival of Schwartz's The Baker's Wife in 2005. He had developed a liking for Working years earlier as a thirteen-year-old actor when he performed in the show at the famed theatrical camp Stagedoor Manor. "It really left a deep impression on me, and a lot of the moments that touched me then remain the same now," he noted in an interview.

For the version of Working currently licensed by Music Theatre International, the recommended cast size is 11-20 actors--enough so that there is a minimum shuffling of roles. For a revised professional production it seemed that a small versatile cast might suit the show, a small venue, and the current economic climate.

Back in May and June of 2008, Asolo Repertory Theatre premiered the new version in Sarasota, Florida. In an interview for that production, Greenberg said he liked the idea of staging it so that the work of the actors is clearly presented. "From [the concept of a stripped-down production] sprang the notion that you start to really focus on the actors' craft itself, because the actors are actually working in front of you. The set is basically all their dressing rooms."

WorkingWorking the musical began its life in 1974 when Schwartz riffled through his mail at home in Connecticut and found a Book of the Month Club flyer describing Studs Terkel's famous oral-history interview book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Schwartz then invited Nina Faso to join him in adapting the text to stage, and flew to Chicago to meet with Terkel, who gave the project his blessing.

Schwartz and Faso have been reworking Working over the years in relationship to "real world" workplace changes. They have conducted interviews of their own to incorporate more current material. As an example, in the latest version, a female telephone operator--an occupation nearly obsolete three decades after the first staging--has been switched to a tech support man in India.

Greenberg wanted to really rethink the whole show. He said in an interview: "Stephen gave me free rein to go back to the original book. So I brought him a big stack of index cards and I spread them all out over his living room and I said, 'How about this?' And then he reshuffled them and said, 'How about that.' And I reshuffled them, again and said, 'How about this and that?'"

To update the score, Schwartz invited Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony Award-winning composer and star of Broadway's hit musical In the Heights (2008 Tony Award), to contribute two songs.

Lou Spisto, executive Producer of the Tony Award®-winning Old Globe, is a strong advocate of the show. "Working is a celebration of the human spirit and the search for meaning," says Spisto, "featuring the music of such renowned composers as Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor – and now Lin-Manuel Miranda, one of the hottest new musical theatre composers. Gordon and Stephen have begun a remarkable new journey for Working which will continue at the Globe and, with good fortune, culminate on Broadway."

Spisto adds, "We've heard a lot from the candidates recently about 'hard-working Americans,' and it seems appropriate and timely to revisit this amazing collage of stories. We are particularly thrilled about having Stephen Schwartz in residence at the Globe to continue working on this exciting project." [The Old Globe Theatre of San Diego production ran March 7 – April 12, 2009]

Working the Musical - From Page to Stage

Defying Gravity includes WorkingIn the new book Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz, from Godspell to Wicked author Carol de Giere includes a behind-the-scenes account of the way Stephen Schwartz and his collaborators developed Working as a stage musical. In interviews for the book, Schwartz revealed why he chose additional songwriters to create the score and what his rationale was for developing a non-fiction musical. The story of Working in Defying Gravity also includes comments from co-adaptor Nina Faso, producer Irwin Meyer, cast members Lynne Thigpen, Robin Lamont, Matt Landers, David Patrick Kelly, and songwriters Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, Stephen Schwartz, and Susan Birkenhead. Readers gain insights about individual songs in relationship to the musical as a whole.

Working the Musical: DVD of the Television version

cover for Working
Working play: Broadway Archives created a DVD from the tape from American Playhouse, WNET and KCET, 1982 Studs Terkel's Working (Broadway Theatre Archive)

Also available as a downloadable rental or purchase: Downloadable version of Working the Musical

Stephen Schwartz directed this PBS production of his show Working. Watch for James Taylor singing his trucking song and sharing his great smile. Studs Terkel introduces the show. You'll see Schwartz's wife Carole in the role of supermarket checker. There are many noteworthy performers and performances.

Working interview - video

Watch Stephen Schwartz and Gordon Greenberg talk about the production at the Old Globe. MTIshows blog- Schwartz and Greenberg

Working Reviews for the Old Globe production

"What's not to love about 'Working'?" asks reviewer Welton Jones in his positive commentary about the new production (and his memory of the Broadway version). SanDiego.com - Working review

Variety Magazine's review included praise: Variety review of WORKING

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