A stonemason or a delivery boy; a cocktail waitress or a trucker. Whether they be a housewife or factory worker or retiree, the ordinary man is often overlooked. Working is a musical for the layperson, a window into the thoughts of the everyday 1970s American, as interviewed by Studs Terkel in his book of the same name. The beauty of Luke Sheppard’s production is that it loses none of its grass roots charm. As a musical narrative, Stephen Schwartz’s adaptation is found wanting; as a collection of memories and experiences reminding us of the masses that keep the world turning, it’s a complete triumph.
History remembers the extraordinary, but all too often forgets the smaller challenges that each person conquers to make their daily lives, or those of their loved ones, that bit better. Yet Working is a musical as relevant for today’s young generations, the dreaded ‘millennials’ or the even more feared ‘generation Z’, as it was for ‘generation X’. Sheppard and choreographer Fabian Aloise emphasise this all the more by including an additional six members of the cast, an ensemble of disaffected youths more interested in their smartphones and getting rich quick than in an honest day’s work. The young six sit around as the older six tell of their lives, slowly imparting wisdom and knowledge onto their beloved counterparts – a heart-warming ending that counters the perceived laziness of kids today and instils in them the value of a job well done.
This concept by Aloise and Sheppard is inspired and executed with true professionalism by the musical theatre beaus and debutantes. A tight group, all clearly have bright futures ahead of them, but one individual consistently draws the eye – that of 2017 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year winner Izuka Hoyle. Hoyle’s first note is magnetic and instantly unmasks her true talents; from then on, every scene or character has emotional depth and star quality written all over it. The pairing with Krysten Cummings during the gospel-inspired song “Cleanin Women” is the perfect showcase for her talents, countering the argument that young professionals might be lesser than their experienced colleagues with sass and soul.
But for all the young cast form the strong foundations for Working, it is the six leads that elevate this production to one of unmissable splendour. Whether it be Gillian Bevan’s sparkling turn as a cocktail waitress in “It’s An Art”, or Peter Polycarpou’s emotionally charged nostalgic rendition of “Joe”, the ‘older generation’ of actors are the perfect role models for the younger ensemble. And Polycarpou heads the charge – he possesses the rare ability to make an audience instantly cry, either with laughter or with sadness. His heart-breaking rendition of “Fathers and Sons” is a plea to us all to remember and respect the efforts of our elders, for they toiled year after year to make our lives that little bit better.
While Polycarpou sticks out from the bunch for the variety in his performance, so does Liam Tamne for his ability to give a consistent personality to all his characters. Each one is that slight shade different, yet all retain a plucky, if sometimes a tad creepy, sense of freedom and wackiness. Whether it be the delivery boy, the call centre worker, or the young aspiring yogi, Tamne can inject fresh energy into a new scene simply by being present in it. Combined with a pitch perfect vocal, Tamne is a particular highlight even in this exceptionally talented cast.
Not to do the others a disservice though – whether it be the liquid gold narration by Dean Chisnall in “The Mason” or Siubhan Harrison’s powerful pipes in “Millwork” and “A Very Good Day”, Sheppard has carefully chosen a leading group that reveal no weak links and forges an indelible impression on its audience. But an actor is only as good as the material he/ she has to work with, so inputting the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Craig Carnelia, in particular, into Stephen Schwartz’s masterfully conceived pieces brings with it a sense of renewed vitality and joie de vivre.
The issue with Working is that it lacks narrative drive – less an overarching storyline and more a series of vignettes, demarcated even further by the additions from several composers and lyricists. While this makes for a long, one-act musical, Working achieves that most rare of musical theatre combinations – it’s incredibly enjoyable and painfully relevant.
Director: Luke Sheppard
Producer: Jack Maple, Ramin Sabi, Christopher Ketner & D.E.M Productions
Writer: Studs Terkel
Adaptor: Stephen Schwartz; Nina Faso; Gordon Greenberg
Choreographer: Fabian Aloise
Songs: Craig Carnelia; Micki Grant; Lin-Manuel Miranda; Mary Rodgers & Susan Birkenhead; Stephen Schwartz; James Taylor
Design: Jean Chan (set); Gabriella Slade (costume); Nic Farman (lighting); Tom Marshall (sound)
Cast: Gillian Bevan; Dean Chisnall; Patrick Coulter; Krysten Cummings; Nicola Espallardo; Siubhan Harrison; Izuka Hoyle; Luke Latchman; Huon Mackley; Kerri Norville; Peter Polycarpou; Liam Tamne
Images courtesy of Robert Workman
Working plays Southwark Playhouse until 8 July 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.