STUDS TERKEL’S ORAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN ESSENTIAL WORKERS, IS A HIT.
WORKING; A MUSICAL IS A PATCHWORK OF SONGS AND STORIES
THAT COMPEL US TO POINT TO ACCOMPLISHMENTS WE ALL HAVE
The Palo Alto players opened their “Together Again” 91st season that brings back live audiences to The Lucie Stern Stage. A huge neon OPEN sign sits atop the scaffolding rugged set to greet the live audience. The essential workers are honored in their first musical with a live audience. WORKING A Musical is now on stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre only through October 3rd. The 1978 revue was originally staged by Stephen Schwartz from Studs Terkel's oral history of the American labor force. “The extraordinary dreams of ordinary people” said Terkel in his 1974 book.
This updated version includes an A list of theatre composers including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Craig Carnelia, James Taylor, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers, Micki Grant and Susan Birkenhead. The versatile ensemble of eight actors performs a variety of careers, and presents 14 powerful songs. The heart of WORKING is a patchwork of blue-collar jobs, and trades like stone mason and millworker that explore and support the American Dream. The workers portrayed in this musical include a waitress, fireman, teacher, truck driver, sex workers and of course a housewife.
The original Broadway production failed, yet this musical has had a busy life as a regional and college staple in revised versions. This latest updated production shows why the material remains relevant and a powerful Covid era statement. This PAP production is staged by Artistic Director Patrick Klein who said “WORKING allows us to celebrate and hear the stories of the American workers that often go unnoticed but are vital to our lives. As we come back together as a theater community, I couldn’t think of a better way to open our 91st season than with a musical that pays tribute to the essential workers - the heroes that have helped us get through the pandemic and will continue to be there for us.”
WORKING features a talented ensemble cast of Bay Area actors playing 26 roles and includes: Mai Abe, Ray D’Ambrosio, Izetta Fang Klein, Jomar Martinez, Jason Mooney, Linda Piccone, Stacey Reed, and Eiko Yamamoto. Some songs have been updated over the years as professions grew more obsolete. For example Schwartz’s newsboys number is no longer in this new version. Current relevant songs have been added to update the work, notably two songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda “Delivery” and the catchy “A Very Good Day”. I was impressed by the theatrical vibes of James Taylor’s contributions including the foot stomping “Brother Trucker”. The polished Jason Mooney is featured in “Trucker” along with the company.
The eight cast members bring each song to important poignant moments. The energized Linda Piccone plays a teacher and sings “Nobody Tells me How”. Later Piccone appears in the show stopping “It's An Art’ as a sassy, driving waitress. The versatile Ray D’Ambrosia plays four characters but he is most impressive as Joe, a lonely elderly man who has settled into the routines of days filled with ritual and few satisfactions. D’Ambrosia is superb in the song “Joe” and later in “Father and Sons” his voice is touching and authentic.
The riveting Jomar Martinez is featured in a number of roles, as Freddy he sings Lin-Manuel Miranda’s catchy “Delivery,” about a fast-food worker. Martinez has an exceptional voice and brings just as much passion to the song “A Very Good Day”. Yamamoto joins him in this second song by Miranda.
The delightful Izetta Fang Klein brings a R&B feel to “Cleanin’ Woman,” as Maggie, who vows that the three-generation cycle of domestic work in her family will end with her daughter. Klein's voice is stellar, backed up by the other women in the cast. A highlight of this one act 90 min musical is James Taylor’s chart hit “Millwork,” a melancholy ballad and performed with soulful feeling by Martinez and Eiko Yamamoto steam-press operators in a factory. The passionate Yamamoto’s wonderful voice makes skillful use of Stacy Reeds’ terrific choreography, turning the mind numbing mill work into a skilled art.
Mooney is also featured in the song “The Mason,” an anthem to the art of the stoneworker, who builds homes that will last a lifetime; Mooney is fully realized as he sings about his youth and eventual retirement. The flawless Mai Abe plays many women workers including a sex worker with a very convincing monologue about the oldest profession. Abe is also featured in “No Body Tells me How” and the powerful closing number “Something to Point To”.
Directed by PAP’s Artistic Director Patrick Klein weaves the many stories as he brings the cast down stage to connect with the Lucie Stern smaller audiences. The production team includes Music Director Dolores Duran-Cefalu who kept the vocals vibrant and told me many of her rehearsals had to be performed on zoom. Choreographer Stacey Reed who at certain performances appears as Maggie is highlighted in the number “Cleaning Women”.
The set design by Scott Ludwig, sets the mood of juxtaposed work spaces and steps and upper grids to building tops and huge neon “open” sign. The lighting design by Abby May is moody and draped with blue tones to highlight each of the numbers. Costume design by Robin “Dutch” Fritz, sound design by Jeff Grafton, and hair and makeup design by Gwyneth Price Panos are all excellent.
The pride of craftsmanship, ownership, and a feel of accomplishment is clearly the heart of WORKING. The one act ends with the anthem "Something to Point To." WORKING runs for 11 in-person performances and must close October 3, 2021 at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, with a live broadcast of the Sunday, September 26 performance, and a recording of the performance available to stream online September 30 - Current information regarding Palo Alto Players’ COVID policies can be found at paplayers.org/covid-19. This Palo Alto Players production of WORKING does indeed, has something to point to.
Palo Alto Players opens 91st season with
WORKING - A Musical
From the book by: Studs Terkel
Adapted by: Nina Faso and Stephen Schwartz;
with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg
Songs by: Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda,
Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, and James Taylor
Directed by Patrick Klien , Music Director Dolores Duran-Cefalu
Choreographer by Stacy Reed
Lucie Stern Theater 1305 Middlefield Road Palo Alto, CA 94301
MUST CLOSE OCTOBER 3RD
Running Time 90 minutes - with no intermission
FACEBOOK PAGE https://www.facebook.com/PaloAltoPlayers/
Photo Credit: Joyce Goldschmid
ETHAN LE INTERVIEWS WITH THE CAST
Palo Alto Players • 1305 Middlefield Road • Palo Alto, CA 94301
650.329.0891 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.paplayers.org