Curtain Call: ‘Working’ still doesn’t work

ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) in Ridgefield tried to resuscitate the original Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso musical “Working,” but even with some updates, and songs by fine artists including James Taylor and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show still falls far short from Schwartz’s “Wicked,” “Godspell,” and “Pippin.” Part of the problem is that “Working” is not actually a musical with a plot or meaningful character connections. Rather it is musical revue with a theme. It is based on the Studs Terkel book “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” The musical didn’t fare well when it first opened on Broadway and this updated musical is a loud and at times overly sentimental piece.

ACT artistic director Daniel C. Levine .,who directs this production, deserves credit for introducing vivid videos of local scenes into the show. The addition of local charm is its best feature. It’s hard to imagine what the show would have been like without these wonderfully colorful and impressive additions. However, there are times when the videos upstage the action and/or singing.
The opening number “All the Livelong Day” is a jumble of singers singing over each other simultaneously. The end result is that it is difficult to decipher any of the words other than the line “I Hear America Singing,” which is a nod to Walt Whitman. If only Stephen Schwartz had stayed closer to Whitman’s poem, this show might have fared better. It certainly would have come across in a more uplifting and positive vein. Whitman celebrated working Americans, but this musical sends out so many negative vibes in its attempt to be authentic that overall it’s a real downer. One of the last songs is “If I Could’ve Been,” which emphasizes how unhappy people are in their jobs and how great they really could have been. By far it’s the saddest song.
“Nobody Tells Me How” is a song and scene about a teacher who cannot adjust to the times. “Just a Housewife” is another number that is sadly downtrodden while “Fathers and Sons” is pure sentimentality. More importantly there is nothing new here.
What does “work” well in this production are the talented singers in this ensemble. Brad Green delights the audience with his strong vocals as do Andre Jordan and Cooper Grodin. Monica Ramirez, Zuri Washington, and Laura Woyasz add the female voices to the talented six-person show.
Music director Dan Pardo’s orchestra performs well and Chip Abbott’s choreography is winningly appropriate for each number. Brenda Phelps’ costume designs are character appropriate and Jack Mehler’s scenic and lighting design enhance the production. The revolving stage and Erector-type staging work well, although at times they are a distraction.
Overall, in spite of the good performances, this musical still doesn’t shine. It is a big disappointment from last year’s stunning “Evita” at ACT. “Working” plays through March 10. Box office: 475-215-5433.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: