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Berkshire Theatre Group - Unicorn Theatre

Working, A Musical, from the book by Studs Terkel, Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso. With additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg. Songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor. Choreography by Ashley DeLane Burger. Directed by James Barry. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.

"Unless you have losers, you can't have winners."

The musical saga of the working people of the United States is the story of America itself: it is a show that has lived a long life, suffered, improved, suffered again and come up a winner. It is that "winner" edition that now graces the Unicorn Theatre stage at the Berkshire Theatre Group's Stockbridge campus. Since its creation in 1978 when it flopped on Broadway (36 performances total) it has undergone a series of revisions, rewrites and productions culminating in a much better Broadway run in 2012.

The company of Working; photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

This show is better termed a "revuesical" as it moves from character to character in song, scene or monologue, never returning to its characters for a second look. Instead for one hour and 46 minute the show just ambles through the workforce of the Union, from menial workers to executives to housewives to call-girls. The ten players work as a chorus, as individual characters and as symbols of what identifies the American worker, union organizer and even marginally a politician. In the age of Trump this is a very justified moment of pause to reflect on what really makes America great.  With music. 

Katie Birenboim as Amanda McKenney; Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

Everyone doubles in this show. Katie Birenboim, early in the play, represents the unsatisfied Project Manager who moves from one position to another, sometimes respected, sometimes abused. She displays the elegance of human nature, accepting what she gets from each job she undertakes. Only one of her several roles, Birenboim brings a deep sense of humanity to all of her characters, a trait she shares with the other women in the company. . .and with the men as well, for this is an equal opportunity employment show.

At one point in the show Erica Dorfler plays Maggie Holmes, the last in a long line of cleaning women. She sings Micki Grant's song about this sort of work and her determination not to see her own daughter in this job is heart-breaking.

Jaygee Macapougay is the perfect student in a classroom scene at one point in the show and a high-school dropout callgirl in another number. Working 20 minutes for $500 she revels in the joys of simple sex. In all her appearances Macapougay is a lovely addition to this excellent cast.

Rob Morrison as Rex Winship; Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

Rob Morrison is one of the standout performers in this show playing the corporate executive and the stone mason among other roles. He is a very dynamic actor and a very good singer. He knows how to wring laughter out of pathos.

Frank Decker, played by Tim Jones, takes on the task of cross-country truck driver and leads the others through James Taylor's "Brother Trucker" with just the right physical and musical attitude. Miles Wilkie brings a strong, safe, mentally suffering Joe Zutty to life in Craig Carnelia's perfect number "Joe."

Deven Kolluri is a very credible Raj Chadha, doing his best to stay calm on the phone with a client in another country and as Utkarsh Trujillo who strives to make each day a "Very Good Day," a new song for the show by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The theater in its program has not made it clear who has written which songs of sketches, so if you need to know you have to go on line and look up the show and its many revisions, just as I did. This is an oversight on the part of Berkshire Theatre Group. 

Farah Alvin as Rose Hoffman, Jaygee Macapougay as her student;

Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

Farah Alvin as 40 year plus teacher Rose Hoffman is an inspiration and a deterrent to the profession of teacher in Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead's song "Nobody Tells Me How." She laments the loss of the way things worked when she began teaching and the current loss of student attention in the 21st century.

Alvin has a wonderful scene as Kate Rushton, a full-time housewife. She performs Craig Carnelia's wonderful number about this unsung profession in a most winning manner, accompanies by several similar women and the occasional man doing the same work. 

Denis Lambert; Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

From the beginning to the end of the show Denis Lambert exhibits terrific talent as a singer and as an actor. In his many roles he displays versatility, excellent character development and an acute interpretive skill. He does a sensitive job with Stephen Schwartz's song "Fathers and Sons" and James Taylor's "Millwork" along with Julie Foldesi who is great in this number.

There are no soft moments in this show which moves along from character to character, job to job, wish to wish without pause. If you need any proof that there is a worker's God, it would seem likely that collaboration of all the contributors to this show could comprise such an all-knowing being.

The Company; Photo: Emma K. Rothenberg-Ware

James Barry has melded his cast into an amazing amalgam of American humanity. He moves them, along with props and furniture, through the lives of our country's unsung heroes, the working class. One character, a happy fireman talks about his earlier life as a policeman. There is no need for anything but the actor and his hat to make this a poignant moment in the show, especially in light of the 911 disaster when both professions played such vital roles. Barry gives us stage pictures of his people, like snapshots from an old-fashioned camera. His work with choreographer Ashley DeLane Burger is seamless which is lovely as her angular formations and body contortions never jar with Barry's simpler, more structural people.

Casey Reed does a nice job with the music which occasionally bordered on the too intrusively loud.  Nicholas Hussong's set and projections are both simple and complex, just like the show's topic. Asta Bennie Hostetter's costumes are always appropriate and Oliver Wason's lighting was excellent and appropriate. Nathan Leigh, sound designer, needs to better balance the voices and the musicians.

Though I hadn't been anticipating much from a 1978 flop show, I had a wonderful time with this production and definitely appreciated its multiple messages, so very appropriate to our times. The show's opening with its quotes from Emma Lazarus' famous poem about the "homeless, tempest tossed" set me up for the ideal look at a modern America and it never let me down.
+  07/21/19  +

Working, A Musical plays at the Berkshire Theatre Group's Unicorn Theatre on the Berkshire Theatre Festival campus on Route 7 in Stockbridge, MA through August 24. For information and tickets go to www.berkshiretheatregroup.org or call the box office at 413-997-4444.