Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 4, 2019

REVIEW: Berkshire Theatre Group, “Working”

Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
through august 24, 2019
by Shera Cohen

Photo by Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware
“Working” is one of those musicals that most people, even those involved in theatre, have never heard of, or at the very least, have never seen. That’s surprising because its history shows off a who’s who in Broadway entertainment. The musical is based on interviews by author Studs Terkel in 1977 (required college reading), book by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked” and just about every Disney musical), and songs by six noted writers including Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”).

Despite its large cast primarily of young performers, “Working” is a small musical about people who work to earn a living, to follow their dreams, to be an important part of community. In other words, the play is universal.

All, or nearly all, of the actors get his/her opportunity to sing solo. To a fault, director James Barry, has selected a dynamite team with pipes to match their acting skills. Essentially an easy flowing series of vignettes, some stories are sheer fun, others poignant; some stories told solely in music, others with dialog introductions followed by song.

In song, dance, monologues, one-on-one conversations, and group numbers the cast of ten are the epitome of sheer joy, energy, and camaraderie. Each actor portrays many roles, and in this case occupations: stone mason, UPS driver, assembly line worker, corporate executive, editor, salesman, parking lot attendant, and “just a housewife.” While some language in the script is updated, the story of “Working” basically does not change onstage or off.
Two emotional songs are standouts. “If I Could Have Been,” sung by the full company, speaks to the universal wish to try and perhaps succeed if his/her life course had been different. “Fathers and Sons” depicts the desires of fathers for their sons as they venture out into the world. The same can be said broadly as parents’ dreams for their children.

The band of four led by Jeff Link provides subtle background, never upstaging the actors. Chorographer Ashley DeLane Burger moves the cast naturally, as real people rather than big production numbers. Set designer Nicholas Hussong creates as many scenes as there are songs (a lot!), primarily with black lines to show spatial demarcations, constantly changing.

It is wonderful to be part of a full house at the Unicorn Theatre for this somewhat obscure, yet perfect, little musical.