Theater review: ‘Working’ at Porthouse

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Porthouse Theatres continues its summer season with the musical Working featuring the Young Professional Company made up of up-and-coming performers recently graduated from Kent State and beyond. (Bob Christy)

The musical Working, playing at Porthouse Theatre, explores the concept of work and what a variety of jobs mean to human beings, whether they’re a source of fulfillment or dissatisfaction, a means to an end or even an act of desperation.

The play, which premiered in Chicago in 1978 and has been updated multiple times since, is based on the 1974 book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel and adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso. Its score contains songs by multiple composers, ranging from Schwartz to James Taylor.

Director Jim Weaver’s strong young cast of 12 singers, all of whom are in college or have recently graduated, are often successful in bringing out the humanity of 25 varied characters who share their feelings about how work does or does not define them. These real middle-class workers’ words, which seek meaning in their work and their personal lives, were originally transcribed by Terkel.

The opening song, All the Livelong Day, is a confusing cacophony of multiple voices but the musical quickly establishes itself as one with heart, pathos, longing and pride in one’s work.

Some of the show’s most memorable moments include the great pride of a waitress who loves her job, sung powerfully by Tee Boyich in It’s an Art, and Shamara Costa’s depiction of how backbreaking factory work is in Millwork. Boyich is also equally strong in her Just a Housewife song, which bemoans stereotypes about stay-at-home moms.

Sprinkled throughout the script is a monologue bringing the nobility of a fireman (Jake Wood) alive, as well as the desperation that drove a young girl to prostitution (Danielle Dorfman).

Tim Welsh provides excellent characterizations ranging from comical to bittersweet, as the proud mason who says “stone’s my business; stone’s my life” to the retired fireman who tries to find ways to fill his days and still goes out to witness fires.

This musical is the 2010 version, which updates most of the professions. The score also includes two newer songs by In the Heights creator Lin-Manuel Miranda: the salsa-flavored Delivery, about a fast-food worker, and the emotional duet A Very Good Day, about caregivers.

One creepy character who does not fit into the musical is an ex-newsroom assistant who has fantasies of mass murder. This very strange bit, played by Mark Warren Goins, depicts warped, violent-minded young man Charlie Blossom, who says he’s a pacifist. The monologue comes from way out in left field and appears to have no redeeming value.

At the other end of the spectrum, in A Very Good Day, Michael Glavan and Dorfman as elder care worker Utkarsh Trajillo and nanny Theresa Liu, sing “Now I do what no one wants to do.” They are referring to the low-paying jobs of immigrants, but that nuance is lost due to director Jim Weaver’s nontraditional casting, which doesn’t match the actors’ races to their various roles. Regardless, in this scene both characters, who sing briefly in their native tongues, reveal that they value their work and are fond of the people they care for.

Choreography by Weaver is quite basic and at times static. But overall, the show is uplifting, continually reminding the audience that workers from all walks of life can take pride in their jobs.

Another common thread is parents’ desires for their children to not have to toil as hard as they have, including the dream of a cleaning lady (powerhouse Emily Hubbard in Cleanin’ Woman) that her daughter will break the third-generation chain of cleaning ladies in her family.

In the end, most parents are bound to feel a tug at the heartstrings when Wood portrays a construction worker in hard hat who reveals he wants so much more for his son in these Fathers and Sons lyrics: “This is why I work … I want my kid to tell me he won’t be like me. … ‘Dad, you’re a nice guy but you’re a dummy.’ ”

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or

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