Review: 'Working' at the Broad Brook Opera House

Tara Kennedy

  • OnStage Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic

Based on Studs Terkel’s book of the same title, “Working” is a musical meant to open the eyes of the American public about what it’s like to work in different vocations through the power of storytelling. These are not characters; these are real people who agreed to be interviewed by Terkel in his quest to find the heart and soul of the American Worker. I was excited when Radio Diaries was featuring the original lost recordings on its podcast, and then doing a follow-up interview with the original interviewee. If you haven’t listened to the podcast, I highly recommend checking it out.

In an age when the breakthrough of “A Chorus Line” – musicals as confessional storytelling – was just taking off, it is surprising that “Working” was not a huge hit with Broadway audiences – it only ran 24 performances after previews. It has had some rewrites over the years – including its most recent incarnation at the Old Globe in San Diego in 2009, adding new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Whether the older or newer version, it’s always been a favorite of mine (the 1970s feel of some of the songs is downright nostalgic for me) and is a great show for colleges and community theaters: it gives the opportunity to highlight performers through monologue and song, and with the Broad Brook production, these actors really shine.

It is worth the trip to Broad Brook to see the honest and entertaining stories of these everyday people (in no particular order): Dennis J. Scott’s mellifluous baritone (“Fathers and Sons”) and heartfelt monologues as a steelworker; Erin Dugan’s beautifully-sung frustrations as “Just a Housewife”; Erica Romeo’s delightfully fun gig as a waitress (“It’s An Art”), and her hilarious take on being a fundraiser; Ian Yue’s funny and lively fast-food worker (“Delivery”); Angela Dias’ disappointment and grief as teaching changes without her (“Nobody Tells Me How”); Rodney K’s great depiction of the lonely life on the road as a long-haul trucker, complete with truckography (by ! (“Brother Trucker”); Sammi Choquette’s spunky and dazzling take on being a newsgirl (“Neat to be a Newsgirl”); Michael Graham Morales’ always-lovely soaring tenor as the balladeer for “The Mason” (though I also did enjoy him being the smarmy hedge fund manager); Andrew D. Secker’s equally lovely tenor voice on “A Very Good Day”; Elizabeth Drevits Tomaszewski witty and on-point performances as a flight attendant and a prostitute; Milena Gravante-Gunnells’ animated, spirited dogwalker; Tom Schutz’s enthusiastic hockey player on real skates!; Amy Rucci’s tough, genuine portrayal of a millworker (“Millwork”); Brian Rucci’s earnest depiction of a firefighter; Sherrie Schallack’s not-so-helpful tech support specialist; and last, but not least, Gene Choquette’s heartwarming, authentic portrait of Joe, the retiree (“Joe”).

Director John Pike did some cutting-and-pasting with the scripts from the different productions, but it seemed odd that some of the transition text that was meant to link one person’s story to another were left in. For example, the teacher mentions her favorite student by name, and then the next scene goes to the flight attendant, who is not the favorite student the teacher mentions in the previous dialogue. It would’ve worked to have left those few lines of dialogue out, and transitioned from the song directly into the next scene.  But to his credit, he certainly understands the core of this piece: the stories. To that end, the set design was minimal (design by Francisco Aguas) yet effective, using projections and video monitors. It was great to see the Opera House Players utilize technology with its set design, as projections are becoming more popular in modern set design.  Moonyean Field added to the simplicity of the design in costumes, with added specialty pieces like the great firefighter gear.  And I will always mention my frustrations with the sound at Broad Brook Opera House; certain microphones either didn’t work at all or worked poorly, distorting some of the actors’ voices. I do hope that they remedy the sound issues soon because it is distracting as an audience member, and must be equally discouraging to performers and artistic staff.

Despite the technical issues, I encourage you to go see this gem of a rarely-produced show with its wonderful ensemble of characters. The company have put their heart and soul into highlighting the ordinary, employed American, and this production deserves large audiences and exuberant applause.

 ***The published script does make the transition between the teacher and the flight attendant with the correct name. The name was either misheard by the reviewer or misspoke by the actor. It was not the fault of the director. OnStageBlog regrets the error.