What A Chorus Line is to Broadway dancers, Working is to the American work force, a musical salute to the cleaning women, iron workers, masons, mill workers, supermarket checkers, teachers, waitresses and countless others who have built America and kept it strong.

With book by Stephen (Wicked) Schwartz and Nina Faso (based on Studs Turkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do), Working: The Musical alternates monologs out of Turkel’s book with a dozen and a half songs by a variety of writers. As staged by TheTRIBE as part of this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, this singular musical revue makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and often powerful evening of theater.

Under Tony Oliver’s imaginative direction, with inventive choreography by the director and Chris Chase, Working provides proof positive that first-rate theater can be produced on a shoestring budget when talent and ingenuity are involved. There’s not a weak link in its cast of eleven, most of whom are new to this reviewer, and whether performing individually or as an ensemble, they are an all-around terrific bunch.

TheTRIBE Productions advertises Working: The Musical as being “From The Composer Of Wicked And Godspell,” stretching the truth a tad too far since Schwartz is but one of Working’s five composers (the others being Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers, and James Taylor) and five lyricists (Susan Birkenhead, Carnelia, Grant, Schwartz, and Taylor). In addition, those looking for a book musical in the Wicked-Godspell vein will find something considerably different from their expectations. Still, it’s hard not to fall under Working’s unique spell.

We meet a large cast of characters brought to vivid life by Tim Borquez, Christopher Chase, Fiama Fricano, Sarah Lang, Amanda Celine Miller, Tiffany Oliver, director Oliver, Jill Kocalis Scott, Judi Stewart, Stephen Stewart, and Tyrone “Tippy” Washington, each of whom shines in solo and group performances.

In monologs, we hear from (among others) an iron worker (Borquez) who keeps a book in his back pocket to provide escape while seated high atop a skyscraper under construction; a teacher (Fricano) who wishes that things these days didn’t always have to be “fun, fun, fun” and misses the days of corporal punishment; a Hispanic bag boy (Oliver) confronted by racial prejudice (“Don’t they teach you people about produce?”); an Irish stonemason (Stephen Stewart) who takes great pride in the houses he’s built (“Stone’s my business. Stone’s my life.”); and a waitress (Scott) who likes to spice up her repartee with creative turns of phrases like “What’s exciting at the bar that I can offer?”

It’s Working’s musical numbers, however, that make it such a crowd-pleaser even on an otherwise empty blackbox stage. A jazzy “Lovin’ Al” has parking lot attendant Al (Washington) joined by a three-girl backup; Judi Stewart’s “Just A Housewife” features a quartet of homemakers miming daily chores in perfect sync; Tiffany Oliver sings a gorgeous James Taylor’s “Millworker” accompanied by the graceful moves of her female castmates; Miller’s “Cleaning Women” salutes the ladies who keep things spotless, and “If I Could Have Been” features the full cast singing in glorious harmonies of their abandoned dreams.

In addition to the above, standout solo performances include Fricano’s “Nobody Tells Me How,” Tony Oliver’s Spanish-language “Un Mejor Dia Vendra,” Chase’s “The Mason,” and Borquez’s “Fathers And Sons,” though truth be told there’s hardly a performance that’s not a winner, and when the entire cast join voices for the Workers’ Pride finale “Something To Point To,” the excellence of each cast member is multiplied by eleven.

Lighting designer Tom Lund makes the visual most of the Ruby Theatre’s bare blackbox stage. Borquez’s music direction has the entire cast vocalizing in perfect harmonies to prerecorded tracks. (The mix of background tracks and unamplified voices couldn’t be better.) Uncredited costumes range from the all black of the opening “All The Livelong Day” to just-right add-ons for each of the jobs which Working salutes. Rachel Randall is stage manager and Alexandra Hauk booth assistant.

Working: The Musical is the latest production by theTRIBE, a company of young artists committed to producing quality theater at affordable prices. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and at times quite moving, it is theTRIBE’s strongest effort to date.

The Ruby @ The Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles.
–Steven Stanley
June 5, 2011

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