Working – Review by Tom Holehan

A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) of Connecticut, Ridgefield’s newest professional theatre company, is starting their first full season with a revival of Stephen Schwartz’s 1977 musical, “Working”. The plucky theatre troupe has definitely created this project with its hometown in mind.

Originally, “Working” was a 26-member cast Broadway musical that won Tony nominations and has had an almost cult following ever since. Based on Studs Terkel’s 1974 book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, the author interviewed hundreds of American working men and women to discuss their jobs, their dreams and aspirations. He concluded that he had given “extraordinary voice to ordinary people”. Stephen Schwartz, the creator behind such Broadway hits as “Pippin”, “Godspell” and the long-running “Wicked”, adapted (with Nina Faso) Terkel’s book with a score that featured his own original music as well as songs from several artists including Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda and James Taylor.

At ACT, director Daniel C. Levine has updated the musical slightly with a nod to the immigrant population, cell phones and, in particular, the setting which is now the town of Ridgefield. Levine has also incorporated a multi-media aspect to the show with movable screens that featured various Ridgefield residents talking about their jobs. The impressive media design is credited to Caite Hevner and the sound (John Salutz) and scenic and lighting designs (Jack Mehler) are all smoothly integrated into a polished production played without intermission in just under 80 minutes. Levine also uses only six cast members who do all the heavy lifting in the show including shifting scenery when necessary. They also have dozens of costume and wig changes (costumer Brenda Phelps was kept very busy here). Backstage must be quite a lively place at showtime.

All told, Levine and company have a solid show with terrific singers (Brad Greer, Cooper Grodin, Andre Jordan, Monica Ramirez, Zuri Washington and Laura Woyasz) who work very well as a solid ensemble. It is no fault of ACT, however, that the musical is really little more than a series of short vignettes that start to sound the same after a while. The show is theme-driven and virtually plotless and much of the music seems very familiar. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s contribution, “Delivery”, could easily have found a home in his Tony hit, “In the Heights”. There is also the volume issue at ACT where everyone seems to be cranked up to an 11. The wireless mics are a distraction plastered against the foreheads of some of the actors and, given the intimate nature of this lovely new theatre, one wonders what would happen if no mics were used? Imagine hearing actual singing voices without the artifice of amplification?

Still, this is an entertaining and cleverly staged evening of music and Mr. Levine deserves credit for respectfully incorporating the community of Ridgefield onto his stage. This is a smart move for a new company seeking community support and it should be applauded.

“Working” continues at ACT of Connecticut through March 10. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at: 475.215.5433 or visit: www.actofct.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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