The musical “Working” presents a multi-faceted look at work and its role in American life. A production of the musical is now on stage at Illinois Central College. Marty Lynch has this review for Peoria Public Radio and the Live Theatre League of Peoria. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer, not those of Peoria Public Radio or the Live Theatre League.
Taking in a show at Illinois Central College has always been a pleasant experience for me. The space is lovely and they pick good scripts, which is all anyone can ask of a theatre. Everything else is gravy. I am glad that they took on a musical the size of Working. This is the kind of show that shows the audience and the company alike what Peoria is capable of doing.
Working is based on a collection of interviews published by Studs Terkel in 1974. Those interviews were updated in 2007, to develop this revised version of the musical. From there, we see dozens of working stiffs from all walks of life as they tell us their stories.
The Performing Arts Center is probably not the largest stage in the area, but it is the one that feels largest. It’s a unique blend of intimate and airy that has the power to envelope any designer that fails to embrace it. Marty Savolskis creates a terrific set that serves both as a supplement to the theatre and a seamless blend of the stage into the theatre that invites the audience to a world that is immediately their own. Director Chris Gray approaches the show in the same way, bringing the company on slowly to mill about before the stage manager begins the show on stage.
The show is a revue-style musical, so there is no plot to speak of. Each vignette is a portrait of a separate occupation, or a life stage in careers. They have disparate viewpoints and values since they come from unique interview subjects. What they share is a theme. On the surface we see a cross-section of men and women earning a living, but what we are actually looking at is a portrait. The melancholy tone of the music lets us know that times are tough and getting tougher. Instead of referring to a position as a career, it’s a first job now. One character explains capitalism to us, another observes how the times they are a changin’, and one particularly poignant character declares ”what you do is what you are.” The show was developed before, during and after the housing bubble brought down the market in 2008. It captures the zeitgeist in such a way that it feels like a time capsule from an era that hasn’t ended yet.
The general image of the show feels contemporary as well. I love the set by Savolskis, but the costumes, sound, lighting, and direction blended extremely well for this production. I could probably gush over any production element here, but director Chris Gray earns kudos for bringing a full scale musical together during what must have been the snowiest rehearsal period ever.
For a show like this, the biggest sacrifice is the fact that relationships never get to flourish. There can be no lovers or rivals for more than a few minutes. In cases like that, it is hard to tell sometimes if the strongest, or the weakest, performances are in part due to the material. Regardless, plenty of actors brought highlights to the stage. Ryan Groves landed the song “Delivery Boy,” easily the funniest song in the show, and delivers it splendidly. Matthew Henry and Arianna Morgan share “A Very Good Day,” and their voices are perfectly matched to a lovely song that comes across as just beautiful. Victor Griffith has the standout performance as Joe Zutty in a song that is half music and half shtick.
The show runs a quick 95 minutes from start to finish with no intermission. The show is PG rated and anyone that has lived and worked in America can relate to this show. Take the time after a long work week to see what ICC has to offer. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Working runs through March 9 with a 7:30pm curtain on Friday and Saturday, 2:30pm on Sunday. Tickets are available at 694-5136 or www.ArtsAtICC.com