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Working
THEATER REVIEW
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2011-03-09

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Playwright: adapted by Stephen . Schwartz, Nina Faso and assorted guest contributers from the book by Studs Terkel. At: Broadway Playhouse (fka Drury Lane) at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut. Phone: 800-775-2000; $67.50-$77.50. Runs through: May 8

In the lobby on opening night, one of Broadway In Chicago's investors (a roofer by trade) remarked that he, himself, was "in the show". If this assessment amuses you, be assured that by evening's end, you will readily acknowledge his rightful place among the actors, musicians, technicians, administrators, publicists, cleaners and ushers who make the magic happen. Indeed, we see it being made as we enter the auditorium: we observe the six players applying their make-up, we hear the stage manager call out cues for lights and sound, and later, we witness dressers deftly re-costume characters in mere seconds. In other words, we watch people work.

And for the 100 minutes of this take-a-stranger-to-the-office adventure, America sings of their jobs—seated at computer terminals, lifting in assembly lines, scrubbing in conference rooms. A flight attendant keeps her passengers blissfully ignorant of mechanical hazards, a receptionist and telephone service rep yearn for silence, and two different kinds of home-medical attendants muse on the necessity of their industry. A delivery boy revels in his mobility while a trucker regrets his life on the road. A prostitute and a fundraiser compare sales techniques. A stonemason contemplates the permanence of his labors, and a press agent, the ephemerality of his.

The remnants of the 1977 prototype conceived by Stephen Schwartz, Nina Faso et al. occasionally show their age: James Taylor's folky "Millwork," Craig Carnelia's soapy "Just a Housewife" and Schwartz' razzle-dazzle "It's An Art" are clearly products of another era (and another Broadway). The mentality of the young tycoon-in-training who imagines an idealized future is good for a chuckle, but that of a likewise young rebel's violent anti-establishment fantasies—only fantasies, mind—is more disturbing.

But the moment that the voice of Studs Terkel (yes, he's "in the show," too, via reel-to-reel tape recorder) invites us to listen, the anticipation is palpable. And by 10 minutes in, after the rousing ensemble number "All the Livelong Day," followed by Lin-Manuel Miranda's exuberant Latino-syncopated "Delivery," have welcomed us to join the people who make our world comfortable on their occupational rounds, we are as eager as we are grateful for this opportunity to see how—and why—the other half (whatever that means to you) makes its living.


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