Lyric’s ‘Working’ doesn’t work most of the time
BOSTON — We all do it — working, that is — but that doesn’t mean it will make for a great musical.
Studs Terkel’s epic 1974 work that compiled oral histories of the men and women who built this country with their sweat just doesn’t translate well to the stage, despite the adaptation by Nina Faso and Stephen Schwartz (“Godpsell,” “Wicked”), who also contributed three songs.
It follows 25 characters over a 24-hour period. But with so many hands involved in the songwriting besides Schwartz — Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, and James Taylor also contributed — “Working” comes across as a bit of a disjointed hodgepodge rather than a unified vision based on Terkel’s work.
All of the songs are not created equal and it’s hard to feel we know much about character since the songs only skim the surface of a job and the person in them.
The cast is a pleasant combination of experienced old pros (Christopher Chew, Shannon Lee Jones, Merle Perkins) with up-and-coming singer-actors (Phil Tayler, Tiffany Chen, Cheeyang Ng).
The 1978 play that had a brief Broadway run has been updated and re-booted, adding jobs that weren’t common then, including community organizer, hedge fund manager and tech support person
And while the result is uneven, that’s not to say there aren’t poignant and powerful moments, such as Chen stuck in a dead-end mill job in “Millwork,“ written by Taylor, in which she realizes bitterly it is just her and her machine “for the rest of my life.”
Chew pulls off a poignant number about a retired man (“Joe,” written by Carnelia) and it‘s followed by Ng portraying an elder care worker (“A Very Good Day“).
The song was written by Miranda (“In The Heights”) and in the capable hands of Ng, it is a poignant moment, especially for someone whose mother died recently after four years in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins has done some sterling recent work at area theaters in the past year “On The Town” (Lyric) and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Stoneham) but the movement in “Working” seems more like an afterthought.
The Lyric Stage production of “Working,“ From the book by Studs Terkel. Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg; Songs by Craig Carnella, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor; Directed and Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins; Music Director, Jonathan Goldberg; Scenic Design, Anne Sherer; Costume Design, Rafael Jaen; Lighting Design, John Malinowski; Sound Design, Brendan Doyle. http://www.lyricstage.com.