Stud's Terkel's book "Working" is a terrific piece of do-it-yourself sociology. The author interviewed a slew of American workers from many occupational walks of life who shared the joys and frustrations ofthe workplace with sincerity, candor and emotional clarity.
A musical incarnation on "Working" is in production at the Colonial Players of Annapolis, where it will play through the first weekend of May.
On the stage, "Working" is a succession of monologues and musical numbers that take the audience inside the professional lives of 27 working men and women. Occupations include fireman, paper boy, steel worker, housewife, business executive, migrant farm worker, trucker and mason.
The result is a spirited evening of theater that punches in somewhere between Edgar Lee Masters' "Spoon River Anthology" and an AFL-CIO rally.
Ultimately, the proletarian soliloquies provided by author Terkel prove more eloquent than the variable musical score.
The music of several different composers is represented. The songs run the gamut in quality from James Taylor's hauntingly lovely migrant worker song "Un Mejor Dia Viendra" to several cute character songs like "Its an Art" and "Lovin' Al," to the banal "All the Livelong Day," which mushes Walt Whitman's eloquent optimism into mindless fodder suitable for the Johnny Mann singers.
But, granted this unevenness of content,the fact is that this talented, energetic Colonial Players cast gets nearly everything there is to get from this material and passes it along enthusiastically to the audience.
There are many highlights.
Whether a cleaning woman, an aspiring executive who knows the ropes, a housewife or a working stiff dreaming about what could've been, Denise Bailey-Jackson is a dominant presence onstage.
Tony Spencer proves a first-class song and dance man as "Lovin' Al," the Fred Astaire of the valet parking world.
Laurie Nettles is very funny and exceptionally well-voiced as an overly theatrical waitress. Dianne Sherwood-Hood's teacher's lament "Nobody Tells Me How" ought to be standard listening in every educational pedagogy class taught in America.
Shawn Patrick Doyle brings admirable blue-collar energy to his trucker song and fireman's monologue.
Patrick Martyn excels as an angst-ridden executive and as a mean-spirited flower child who imparts the valuable lesson that not all the idiots work in management.
I was also impressed with Patrick McConnel's portrayal ofa steel worker indignant over having been stereotyped as a non-intellectual because of his choice of profession, and with John Brothers' breezy yet touching portrayal of the retired "Joe."
This is a cast, in short, that speaks well, moves smartly, and sings effectively.
A few improvements are in order. The opening ensemble number needs all the help it can get, and there were several castmembers who took a bit too long to become involved in the proceedings. Everyone shouldfocus in a little quicker.
Pitch was a problem in "Fathers and Sons." The soloist might want to compensate more for a tendency to go flat.
Some alert jiggling of the dials at intermission brought the instruments into balance with the singers. Through the first act, thesingers were often over-powered, even in the ensemble numbers. Keep the Act II settings, folks.
These quibbles aside, what a meaningful and worthwhile show this is. Life is often an existential proposition. We are what we do. As Mike the steel worker concludes, "Somebody built the pyramids. The Empire State building didn't just happen."
In conveying this uplifting message, "Working" truly works.