Los Angeles Theater Review: WORKING (Lex Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on March 23, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles

SOMEHOW, IT KEEPS ON WORKING

For those who have never seen the 1978 musical Working, the Production Company’s current revival may be somewhat of a revelation. The subtitle of Studs Terkel’s brilliant oral history of the same name – adapted for the stage by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso – is People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. That’s what the show is about, folks. It is a “bits and pieces” event, told in monologues and songs, which, because of its truncated nature and attempt to turn employment statistics into musical drama, had critics frothing at the mouth in 1978. Working does indeed wear its bleeding heart on its sleeve and has an inherent homeland hokiness based on the premise that people need to be heard. But the revelation is that, while this is by no means a brilliant musical, the collection of decent songs (from various contributors) and well-written monologues manages to capture the spirit of a working nation with humor and poignancy.

At the Lex Theatre, director August Viverito knows how to elucidate the pathos of the musical by casting a slew of great actors. Among the notables: Randy Wade Kelley, whose take on Charlie Blossom, a pacifistic copy-boy who dreams of killing his editor, is the best I have seen from countless productions; Michael D’Elia’s tender, expressive interpretation of the song, “Mason”; Larry Lederman as parking lot attendant Al Calinda, who sings the crowd-pleasing “Lovin’ Al”; Pamela  Taylor, in powerful presence and voice as cleaning woman Maggie; Harmony Goodman’s plaintive housewife and millworker; and the very funny Judy Nazemetz as waitress Delores, who hilariously conjures up the spirit of Imogene Coca when comparing her job to that of a performer in the song “It’s an Art.”

However, for those who have seen Working before, this production veers dangerously close to a huggy-feely support group at a spiritual center. Cast members practically sway in group numbers where they smile and put an arm around each other, taking a much-needed bite from the proceedings. The use of Dolly Parton honky-tonk between acts, characters as switchboard operators, and some of the boppy, 1970’s song arrangements make this production feel old-fashioned, even as many individual moments work well. Viverito has excised songs and monologues to tighten the show, but his use of banners that state “Occupy the Streets” and “Stand with Wisconsin” do little in the way of contemporizing a show that becomes more outdated with each new decade’s technological advancements.

Even so, Working still manages to succinctly capture a day in the life of America in such a way that there remains a sense of enormity about what we do for work – and that alone will elicit a tearful eye and an understanding smile to most every audience member.

photos by T L Kolman

Working
The Production Company
The Lex Theatre in Hollywood
ends on May 6, 2012
for tickets, visit The Prod Co

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