The economy was a lot different, and in even worse condition, back in 1978, when Working first hit Broadway to critical acclaim and as a box-office bomb. Closed after 24 performances, it lives on in regional and community theaters that welcome large-ensemble shows that don't require pretty-perfect people. A new production at Apple Hill Playhouse is big and sometimes lumpy, if lumpen, but usually hits the right notes of comedy, pathos, empathy and overall enjoyment.
The full title of the late Studs Terkel's 1974 nonfiction book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, pretty much describes the "plot" of the adaptation, by Broadway favorite Stephen Schwartz (a Carnegie Mellon grad) and Nina Faso. It's a series of soliloquies taken from the mouths of real people, plus songs (by various composers) based on other real people. The Apple Hill ensemble has a wide range of talents, ably deployed by director/music director Michael Rozell in multi-cast musical numbers choreographed by Leyna McCarthy.
Nearly all of the 24 members of the Apple Hill cast have their chance in the spotlight, and a few do shine. The bittersweet "Just a Housewife" (written by Craig Carnelia) is warmly sung by Lisa Taliani, who shrugs just the right nuances of irony into her brief tale. James Taylor's challenging song, "Millwork," is ably fronted by Leyna McCarthy, in sync with her backup singer-movers Maria Bruno, Kristin S. Buccilli, Grant Janicek, Ken Williams and Stephen Young.
Dennis "Chip" Kerr switches gears from the menacing boss figure in several scenes, to his own touching performance of Carnelia's "Joe." As the former migrant worker, Josh Mackall is a great choice to sing Taylor's "Un Mejor Dia Vendra" ("A Better Day Will Come"). Similarly, Tom Bekavac makes a physically unlikely iron worker, but is in wonderful voice to lead Schwartz's opening songs, "All the Livelong Day," and "Hey, Somebody," plus Carnelia's closing number, "Something to Point To."
Applause also for the imposing clock of set designer Ryan Hadbavny, and his versatile lighting design with Bill Elder, and for the tuneful triumph of the tiny orchestra: Jon Mracko, Liza Seiner and Adam Niehl, led by Rozell.
In some ways, Working is a bit of a period piece. Phones answered by real human beings? Low-tech mill jobs still in the U.S.? But it still works as a celebration of the pride of American workers, and Apple Hill captures that spirit.
Working continues through Sat., July 24. Apple Hill Playhouse, Delmont. 724-468-5050 or www.applehillplayhouse.org
- Kristin Buccilli (foreground), Leyna McCarthy and Ken Williams in Working, at Apple Hill.