Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
The final musical theater production of the 2003-2004 season at the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) is Working, presented as part of their Studio Series. Working examines the personal accounts of real laborers and their attitudes and feelings toward their professions. CCM's production makes the most out of the material by employing uniformly wonderful performances, as well as strong direction and choreography.
Working is based on Studs Terkel's book of the same name. The musical's book, adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, alternates between songs and monologues. The stories of ironworkers, truckers, parking lot attendants, telephone operators, factory workers, firemen, hookers, and many others are presented in a straightforward and realistic manner. The pride, dreams, and frustrations of these every day people shine through, and both touching and amusing moments abound. The show doesn't contain a through story, but rather these many individual snippets of both music and dialogue. A show trying to tell so many separate mini-stories could easily feel disjointed, but the material for Working flows from one tale to the next so smoothly that this problem is avoided.
The score consists of songs written by six different composer/lyricists: Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, and James Taylor. But, this is not a problem here, as the songs meld together extremely well into a cohesive collection despite the patchwork of writers. The energetic "All the Livelong Day" is an effective opening. Emotional tunes such as "Millwork", "The Mason", and "Fathers and Sons", as well as humorous songs "Lovin' Al" and "It's An Art" are musical highlights. This production uses the show's updated songs, lyrics, and monologue script.
CCM houses some of the best student performers found anywhere, and nineteen of them are showcased in this production of Working. Perfectly blended harmonies, graceful execution of tricky dances, soaring vocal work, and richly detailed characterizations are the norm and in full force here. Though all are worthy of praise, a few performers stand out for special mention. Jacqui Polk skillfully conveys a full emotional arc in "Just A Housewife", and Darcy Yellin displays an amazingly endearing eagerness as a supermarket checker in "I'm Just Movin'." Especially strong vocal work is turned in by Kristine Reese in "Cleanin' Women" and Joseph Medeiros in the beautiful "Un mejor Dia Vendra." First-rate acting is provided by Maria Weiner (showing great versatility as both an office project manager and a hooker) and Michael Parrish DuDell (as a retiree).
This production of Working is also aided by fine direction, choreography, and musical direction. Director Jeremy Gold Kroneberg stages some emotionally effective and visually interesting scenes, provides seamless transitions, and keeps an appropriate tone throughout. The use of purple and black boxes for most of the set pieces and props is likewise inventive. The dances by Savannah Wise are lively, fun, and suitable. Zach Dietz leads a talented three-piece band.
Working isn't a traditional musical with multiple characters interacting with each other to tell a single story filled with plot twists and turns. It is rather a character study of workers and laborers. Thanks to some strong material and CCM's seemingly never ending supply of talented performers and artists, this production "works" well, and all involved deserve high marks on their next performance appraisals. Working was presented at CCM from May 13 - 15, 2004.-- Scott Cain