I could have easily entitled this piece "How I Learned to Love Musicals."
As a closet jock and recovering meathead, I had it in my head that I didn't like musicals.
"Les Mis" seems OK, I guess, and, if pressed, I'd admit to half-enjoying performances of "Fiddler on the Roof," but I don't want anything to do with "Glee" and I'm all-set on "Annie." Basically, going to a musical on Valentine's Day—or any other day, for that matter—doesn't often ever factor into my schedule.
Turns out it should.
"Working," the new musical at 2nd Street Theater, blew my doors off. From the relatable theme—the ups of downs of the American worker—to the live music, the outstanding delivery and performance of the players, the nuanced lead by director David DaCosta, the community theater production made me feel like I was sitting in Chicago's Goodman Theatre.
It was at the Goodman in 1977, actually, where "Working," a musical based on the 1974 book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by American author and historian Studs Terkel, was originally staged. It was later re-adapted by Stephen Schwartz ("Wicked," "Pippin" and "Godspell") and included music and lyrics by such notables as James Taylor.
The musical has also been retooled to fit modern times, which is a part of what makes "Working" so damn good.
Each of the two acts highlights individual workers as they relay the unavoidable eventualities and stereotypes of their jobs and workdays—often humorously, touchingly and inspirationally. I credit the players and director.
"It's a homage to working folk," DaCosta said after the hour-and-a-half-long show.
One by one, a steelworker, flight attendant, deliveryman, receptionist, prostitute, truck driver and fast-food worker, among others, take the stage and tell their stories, often by song.
It was the burger-flipper who first had me in stitches.
"I smell like a burger," a smiling young man (Hector Ariceaga) croons, without a trace of bitterness or sarcasm in his voice. He went on to explain that deliveries are the highlight of his day.
Everything was just so damn spot-on, so poignant, so relatable. I realized early in the performance that I was hooked.
An aging third-grade teacher complains about being able to deal with today's children with their cellphones and ADD. A laid-off worker wonders about the economy. A housewife fears that others might think her dull and lacking ambition—this was painful to watch. Painful because it was so honest.
The prostitute, reveling in her lucrative employment situation, pities the nine-to-fivers who don't have the luxury of taking their work nice and slow. She delivers the play's best line: "People just aren't meant to be turned on and off like water faucets."
I wanted to stand up and cheer.
And the vocal performances! Coupled with genre-shifting live music by a four-man band, the wide-ranging songs—from honky-tonk trucker ballads to chorus-line show tunes—had me wishing I was recording the performance.
It was so impressive I had to check and double check that the cast was indeed made up of volunteers and not paid professionals. It was.
So it's official. Musicals can be really good.
And "Working" is phenomenal.
7:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays,
3 p.m. Sundays through March 2
2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave.
$21, $18 for students and seniors
Tickets at 2ndstreettheater.com or 541-312-9626