Following its critically acclaimed revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen Of Leenane, The Production Company makes it two in a row with its sensational intimate staging of Studs Terkel’s Working, as adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso.

 Working is to the American work force what A Chorus Line is to Broadway dancers—a musical salute to the cleaning women, iron workers, masons, supermarket clerks, teachers, mill workers, waitresses and countless others who have built America and kept it strong. The revue alternates monologs from Turkel’s book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do with a dozen and a half songs by a variety of writers—composers Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers, Schwartz, and James Taylor and lyricists Susan Birkenhead, Carnelia, Grant, Schwartz, and Taylor. Despite its patchwork construction, this musical hybrid stands up quite nicely indeed against its more purebred rivals, making for a thrilling, emotionally resonant musical revue unlike any other.

Working introduces us to a large cast of characters brought to memorable life on the stage of the Lex Theatre by an impeccable cast of ten—TheProdCo company members Lane Allison, Margaret Dwyer, Larry Lederman, Judy Nazemetz, and Michael Zemenick alongside Michael D’Elia, Harmony Goodman, Kurt Andrew Hansen, Randy Wade Kelley, and Pamela Taylor.

In monologs, we hear from (among others) an iron worker (Hansen) who keeps a book in his back pocket to provide escape while seated high atop a skyscraper under construction; a veteran teacher (Nazemetz) 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 (D’Elia) confronted by racial prejudice (“Don’t they teach you people about produce?”); and an Irish stonemason (Zemenick) who takes great pride in the houses he’s built (“Stone’s my business. Stone’s my life.”)

 Other memorable characters include a waitress (Nazemetz) who likes to spice up her repartee with creative turns of phrases like “What’s exciting at the bar that I can offer?”; a project manager (Allison), who describes in Edie McClurg mode the many types of cubicles she’s called home (“At one place, they didn’t have any cubes, there were just desks, eight of us all at desks with little phone lines, little buttons that light up when you’re on them. I’m going: ‘Oh my career is really taking off now.’”); and a fundraiser (Nazemetz) who informs us sunnily that “fundraising is like candy. You get to talk with fascinating people and promote causes you love. What could be more delicious than that?”

It’s Working’s musical numbers, however, that make it such a crowd-pleaser, especially as directed by August Viverito (on top of his game) and choreographed by Nancy Dobbs Owen (seamlessly integrating movement and dance into Viverito-directed scenes).

A jazzy “Lovin’ Al” has parking lot attendant Al (Lederman, doing his best Satchmo) extolling the virtues of parking a car with just “one swing in” and “one swing out.” Goodman’s “Just A Housewife” starts out soft and gentle and builds to a stunning climax, backed by Allison and Taylor as fellow housefraus. Taylors’s soulful “Cleaning Women” salutes the ladies who keep things spotless. As longtime school teacher Rose, a dynamic Nazemetz complains in song about being told to “keep up with the times … But nobody ever tells me how.”

Other standout solo performances D’Elia’s gorgeous Spanish-language “Un Mejor Dia Vendra” backed by Hansen and Kelley; his exquisite “The Mason,” with stonemason Zemenick declaring with justified pride that “Nothing in this world lasts forever, but with stone you’re getting awful close;” and Hansen’s deeply moving “Fathers And Sons,” which has TheProdCo’s Ovation nominated Sweeney Todd recalling “summer nights and baseball games” spent with his father even as he faces the challenges of fatherhood himself.

It’s hard to imagine a better Working ensemble than the one onstage at the Lex. Running the gamut of ages, physical types and ethnicities, Allison, D’Elia, Dwyer, Goodman, Hansen, Kelley, Lederman, Nazemetz, Taylor and Zemenick are first and foremost actors, and gifted ones at that. The fact that they also happen to be gifted singers makes for ten tremendous, multifaceted performances.

There’s not a cast member who doesn’t embody several entirely distinctive characters, and without playing favorites, it boggles the mind that the jaded schoolteacher, the sophisticated fundraiser, and the justifiably proud waitress are all the same Nazemetz; that the strapping firefighter and hoodied teen should both be Kelley; or that the frustrated housewife and very “Noo Yawk” office worker could possibly each be Goodman.

 It would be impossible to list every one of Working’s stunning moments, but a few stand out in particular—the opening sequence, which has the entire cast in a dramatic salute to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement; Goodman’s factory worker monolog, accompanied by her fellow millworkers’ perfectly synchronized, dancelike moves; and the “Something To Point To” finale, which Owen has choreographed to symbolize the turning gears that keep America moving.

Viverito not only directs with abundant imagination but has designed the production’s simple but striking set, backed by an American flag whose stars have been replaced by megacorporation logos. Musical director Richard Berent not only elicits outstanding vocal work from the cast, he plays keyboards and conducts the show’s splendid three-piece band (with George ‘Drew’ Derieux on guitar and John Harvey on percussion). Ric Zimmerman’s gorgeous, endlessly varied lighting design and Kelly Graham’s array of job-defining costumes complete a terrific design package.

Working is produced and assistant directed by T L Kolman. Set construction is by David Lombard. Christopher Carver and CB Spencer are production stage managers.

It’s been two and a half years since TheProdCo’s Sweeney Todd proved what Viverito, Kolman, and company could do with a musical. Working replicates that production’s brilliance. It is quite something indeed to see and hear America’s labor force tooting their own horns in this superbly staged musical revue.

The Production Company at the Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
March 16, 2012

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