By Mark Dreisonstok
“Working: A Musical” is currently streaming online at set times from George C. Marshall High School.
The spring musical production is based on a 2012 update of the 1970s play, allowing for examination of some of our internet-enabled working conditions of today.
Many varieties of work are represented using different settings in and about offices, worksites, the city — all making the play seem less like a Zoom production and more like a stage or film telecast, also allowing for excellent use of a very talented cast of mostly student performers.
The show features vignettes of workers and the work they do, presented one after the other. Dolores the Waitress (wonderfully acted and sung by Grace Kellermann), views waitressing not as drudgery but with excitement at providing service, “like it’s theatrical, like I’m on stage!” Kellermann sings with exuberance in what is perhaps the most Broadway-like song of the production, “It’s an Art” (penned by Academy- and Grammy-award winning Stephen Schwartz).
There is Tom the Fireman (played by Pete Bergen, not a student but an improv teaching artist who often adds his talents to Falls Church school productions) who takes pride in saving lives and may remind us that in our current coronavirus situation, work often entails risks, even as we serve others.
There is Rose the Teacher (Sylvie Vanstory), who takes a similar satisfaction in profession, but also Terry the Flight Attendant (AJ Hernandez-Sortore) who must deal with rude customers — one of the negative sides of working life in the service industry.
White collar professions are represented as well. Rex the Hedge Fund Manager (Benjamin Campagnuolo), claims to have “the sexiest job there is.”
He makes a credible defense of free market capitalism, praising its virtues while acknowledging its faults, and then making the troubling statement that an important part of his job is “outsmarting the regulators.”
A poignant moment comes with the statement early in the show by Mike the Ironworker (movingly depicted in voice and song by Josh Gurdak), who laments that construction workers lack prestige even though they do what few others can — stand atop an unfinished building at 1000 feet. Laborers can then look over to an office building, pride swelling up with the knowledge, “I built that!”
What else keeps one going to work? Perhaps the ability to dream — or daydream, as Frank the Interstate Trucker (an earnest Soohwan Kim) is motivated by images of his Radio Dream Girl (Catie Cryan) — just as most of us are kept aloft by the hopes of relationships, family, and financial success which work brings.
“I’d heard of ‘Working’ for years but didn’t really know it,” said Bernie DeLeo, Marshall’s theater teacher as well as the play’s director (and a Falls Church native to boot). “I did know that it was a series of songs and monologues about various American workers, and I thought it could work very well in a distanced format if we could film it against a green screen then edit it into a film later.”
This reviewer would add that it is an excellent choice because it reminds us of the workers today who have spent their efforts, and often risked their lives, to keep us supplied with the necessities and comforts of daily life.
We who have been at home for extended months can also realize how much we miss our own working and contributing to the larger community, industry, and purpose — that workers (both ourselves and others) keep America “singing,” in the image of Walt Whitman which is alluded to at the beginning of the show.
This context moves “Working” beyond the radio reportage of Studs Terkel (on whose work the musical is based) to convey a greater sense of the human spirit.
“Working” has been called a “working-class Chorus Line” but, given the focus on episodic vignettes focusing on life and work in the city, it has much in common with works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
However, unlike most Brecht and Weill works, there is not a grand moral statement; rather, it is more akin in spirit to the Whitman poem, “I Hear America Singing,” which similarly praises mechanics, carpenters, masons, and other workers who have made America move forward.
The stylish, well-acted production comes to us in a socially distanced format.
Unlike some streamed shows, which start whenever one logs in, this show streams only at fixed times, just as with a traditional stage performance.
DeLeo reminds News-Press readers, “curtain time is 8 p.m. on the dot! I’m advising people to log on 10 minutes early just in case technology decides to be a pest.”
The performance runs about 1 hour and 55 minutes.
The audience should be advised there are some racy moments, such as the inclusion of a prostitute among the characters, as well as some adult-themed language in the dialogue.
The remaining shows are on May 21 and 22.
For tickets and more information about this excellent production, those interested should visit here.