Theater review: Working - great voices and an engaging score

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Jeff Carpenter Photography

Review by Jim Anderson

Maybe there really are only two groups of people in the world – those who think the first profession was prostitution and those who think the first profession was gardening. Work, however you want to order it, bears a lot of cynicism – no matter whether one complains about blight and bugs, or Johns and the odious problems of working the streets. Presentations about “working”, wherever they are made, are going to bear some cynicism.

Enter Chicago’s Studs Terkel, journalist and radio host, and the musical ‘Working’, playing oh-so-conveniently close to north end and Shoreline residents - even closer for Lake Forest Park residents - in the theater at Magnuson Park on Sand Point Way. Three presentations Fridays through Sundays, and one Thursday offering the last week, run through Sunday, October 2nd.

Jeff Carpenter Photography
‘Working’ is based on Terkel’s book by that name, created from a massive body of interviews. Terkel probed people “about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do.” To be sure, Studs Terkel often portrayed work as a maddeningly nihilistic pursuit only to be solved by… well, more work. The first act of the play does a good job rivaling the troubles belonging to the main character in the Book of Job.

But this musical is buoyed through the portrayed madness by great voices and an engaging score. Noteworthy, the cast mesmerized the audience on opening night by blending their voices around characters who in turn nimbly play back and forth to tell their stories of despair and purpose. Even when the characters are stuck in the mud of self-pity, created from the 100 years of economic and industrial modernization to which Terkel, in part, bore witness, the music tells the audience something good – or at least more balanced – is coming in act two.

‘Working’ does not disappoint. The mind of a stone mason creates – for a moment – a ‘door made of stone’ and the rest of the musical takes on a full spectrum of working people’s aspirations. The next scene is not to be missed. Actress Rachel Wilkie bends her character and catapults the ideas behind great work in ways you have to see and hear.

Jeff Carpenter Photography
The cast creates countless memories in many vignettes. Geriatric hips seemingly too genuine for an actor, despair that can’t or won’t stop work to go home, work filled with compassion, the stunning need compelling souls to work with various great dangers, and even the tragic disregard for self – they all work to create a drama that is human.

Working itself may never seem the same after seeing this. The often politically liberal viewpoint of Louis ‘Stubs’ Terkel is a vantage point on history that stretches the mind and leaves a better and more noble view of the human power to create good in the world. It calls capital ‘and’ labor to envision and to fashion a world filled with monuments to what we are able to make. And it calls each of us to remember and be grateful for not just what has been created around us, but to remember who created it.

Calls to justice between human souls are most often either overwrought or simply too benign. This work, this musical, creates something – perhaps even because of its early portrayal of despair – that makes this call with subtlety.

Tickets are currently on sale for Working, as well as for all of SMT’s 39th season selections here.

September 9 through October 2, 2016 at Seattle Musical Theatre, 7120 62nd Ave NE, Seattle 98115 in Magnuson Park.


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