To poet Walt Whitman, the stories of mechanics and masons, women and wood-cutters were captured in his poem “Hear America Singing” in 1966. Less than ten years later, the oral historian and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel wrote about people talking about what they do all day and how it affects them. Soon after that composer Stephen Schwartz and collaborator Nina Faso created a musical “ Working” celebrating the talents and daily toil of the millions of men and women who make this country great, from the firemen to the forest rangers, the chefs to the cashiers, the teachers to the taxidermists, the dishwashers to the delivery men.
Now, a new revision of “Working” is being offered by Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine, with the permission of Stephen Schwartz, at A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) in Ridgefield in a world premiere until Sunday, March 10. It devotes itself to how people feel about what they do all day, and how it defines and describes who they are. Using Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” as its opening lines, the musical joyfully explores the routines that day in and day out provide a paycheck and a sense of self. Are we not defined by what we do for a living?
Levine bases his new version on dozens of interviews made with residents of Ridgefield, marrying their stories with a wonderful series of projections by Caite Hevner. Whether one is an iron worker walking on narrow beams high in the sky, or a mason proud of every stone he puts into place in a wall, or a waitress at Dimitri’s Diner who dances through her day with smooth moves, or a migrant worker trying to better himself by cutting branches from mighty trees , a variety of occupations are spotlighted with humor and poignancy.
One can feel the disillusionment of the third grade teacher whose students now consider English as a second language and no longer match her concept of literate and learn of the cleaning women who despite long hours on their feet take such pride in their job that they consider themselves self-styled artists. With insightful vignettes and lively songs composed by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Steven Schwartz and James Taylor, this entertaining cast includes Brad Greer, Andre Jordan, Cooper Grodin, Monica Ramirez, Zuri Washington and Laura Woyasz. The enthusiastic direction of Daniel C. Levine brings honor to a myriad of professions.
For tickets ($56-72), call ACT, 36 Old Quarry Road, Ridgefield at 475-215-5433 or online at www.actofct.org. Performances are Thursdays at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m.,Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Forget for a moment the good works of the entrepreneurs, attorneys and doctors and concentrate on the unsung heroes who labor to keep the economy of America vital and strong. “Working” sings their praises loud and long, the extraordinary words of ordinary workers.