Theater News

Working Together

Director Gordon Greenberg discusses Asolo Rep’s revised version of the musical Working, featuring new material from Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Liz McCartney and company in Working
(© Frank Atura)
Liz McCartney and company in Working
(© Frank Atura)

Gordon Greenberg’s first exposure to the 1978 musical Working, based on the famed nonfiction book by Studs Terkel, was not the show’s short-lived Broadway production, but when the then-13-year-old aspiring actor performed the role of the newsboy at the famed theatrical camp Stagedoor Manor. While that character no longer exists in the drastically revised, 90-minute version of Working that Greenberg is directing at Sarasota’s Asolo Rep, that teenage experience was the inspiration for this production. “It really left a deep impression on me, and a lot of the moments that touched me then remain the same now,” he notes.

Greenberg began working with the show’s co-creator, Stephen Schwartz, eight years ago, and the long-aborning result is a “down to the bones” staging which uses only six actors (plus an on-stage stage manager) — and where the actors will change their costumes in view of the audience. Moreover, a great deal of work has been done on the libretto; among the changes were turning a telephone operator into an Indian technical support person, and transforming an older business mogul into a 28-year-old hedge fund manager. “Stephen gave me free reign to go back to the original book,” he says. “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?'”

Moreover, the score has been greatly altered — with Schwartz happily cutting one of his own tunes — and two new songs added by In the Heights composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda. “Stephen and I both wanted an updated sensibility, and Lin has this great ebullient enthusiasm,” he says. “Lin has really done some amazing work for us in the midst of this pretty explosive month for him.”

Greenberg admits it isn’t easy to define the finished product. “It’s now a cross between a play and a song cycle,” he notes. “But the question of the piece remains the same as it did 30 years ago: ‘What do you work for?’ We all have the same desire for resonance, to have an impact on the world.”

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Closed: June 8, 2008