The musical Working opened on Broadway in 1978 with a cast of seventeen and lasted less than a month. Since then, however, the show has become a perennial favorite for rep companies, colleges, and high schools. The Old Globe in San Diego is presenting a “new” version of the musical with only six actors, plus two backstage helpers who help the onstage characters change clothes and/or scenery.
The original was based on the book by Studs Terkel. Transformed into a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, it featured songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, and James Taylor. For this reinvention Schwartz is back, having shaped an updated version complete with a hedge fund worker and a customer service rep from India. There is also a new composer on the team, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who starred in and wrote In The Heights. He provides two new songs, “Delivery,” about a food delivery boy, and “A Very Good Day,” about a couple of caregivers. The new director is Gordon Greenberg, who directed Happy Days The Musical.
The result is a fresh new look at this musical, which now has even more sting, with America is in the midst of such a big downturn in the economy and so many jobs at risk. Greenberg has staged the show with a set that resembles Hollywood Squares, with most of the squares used as makeup stands and the others for the superb eight-person band under the musical direction of Mark Hartman. The middle square contains the staircases that join all the levels.
I really loved the staging, as well as the new focus on the magic of actors transforming themselves. This dimension adds theatricality to the piece and enhances the presentation of the 26 different characterizations performed by this remarkable cast. The versatile performers are Adam Momley, Nehal Joshi, Wayne Duvall, Danielle Lee Greaves, and Donna Lynne Champlin. The two on-stage stage managers were Daniel S. Rosokoff and Jennifer Leigh Wheeler. Simply stated, I loved this re-imagining, and I trust New York audiences will feel the same way if, as the producers hope, the show moves there.
Working plays at The Old Globe until April 12.