Usually messing with an established show brings no good results, but Gordon Greenberg’s revised version of the 1978 musical Working, now at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre, proves to be a welcome exception to that rule. In jettisoning three of the original songs as well as the intermission, adding two new songs by Tony Award-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reducing the cast to just six players, this revamped production has a sparkling new look, feel, and relevancy that should ensure the show a long theatrical life.
Based on Studs Terkel 1974 book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do and written by a variety of composers (most notably Stephen Schwartz), the musical is a fluid portrait of America’s current workforce, thanks to some new interviews that were conducted a few years ago. Gone are the newsboy, model, gas meter reader and a few other characters; but in their place are more current occupations such as hedge fund manager, fast food delivery person, and caregiver.
Greenberg’s concept of showing the audience the behind-the-scene workers, from the stage manager calling light cues to begin the show to the tech crew and onstage band adds to the show’s immediacy. The concept is most effective when wardrobe assistants help transform actress Danielle Lee Greaves from housewife to hooker in a matter of seconds, creating true stage magic in the process. Equally important, the monologues and songs now flow smoothly from one to another, creating a rich tapestry under Greenberg’s subtle and sure direction.
In addition to Greaves, who provides a big belting voice in Micki Grant’s “Cleanin’ Women” and plenty of heart in Craig Carnelia’s “Just a Housewife,” the women include Donna Lynne Champlin, who provides the bulk of the laughs as, among other characters, an over-decorating cubicle worker, a no-nonsense teacher, a veteran waitress, and a fundraiser, and Marie-France Arcilla, who delivers a delicious portrait of a flight attendant as well as a heartbreaking one of a millworker (via James Taylor’s standout composition).
The men in the cast deliver the goods as well. Wayne Duvall’s touching delivery of Schwartz’s “Fathers and Sons” and Adam Monley’s raucously joyful interpretation of Taylor’s “Brother Trucker” are both showstoppers. Nehal Joshi is tasked with creating a few of the new workers: the fast food worker who lives to deliver the food and collect the tips and the caregiver who helps others in their daily life so he can help his family financially in theirs. As a group, the cast solidly delivers such anthems as Grant’s “If I Could’ve Been” and Carnelia’s “Something to Point To.”
Beowulf Boritt’s three-level scenic design with nine cubicles doubling as dressing rooms and playing spaces is not only extremely effective, but downright stunning. Mattie Ullrich’s perfect costume design, Jeff Croiter’s lighting, and Tony Smolenski IV’s sound design all enhance the mood and experience.
And in the end, members of the audience — whether they love or hate their current job — leave the theater with a better appreciation of their own career and that of others they come in contact with on a daily basis.