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‘Meaningful’ production of ‘Working’ on stage at Porthouse

7/11/2013 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Porthouse Theatre continues its summer season with the musical “Working,” which is on stage through July 20.
Photo: Bob Christy
CUYAHOGA FALLS — Porthouse Theatre’s second production this summer, “Working,” is on stage through July 20.

Based on the book by Studs Terkel, who interviewed people about their work and how they felt about working, the show is based on a new 2010 version of “Working” that is a musical exploration of 26 people from all walks of life. Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso adapted the book to the stage, with additional contributions by Gordon Greenberg.

Schwartz is known for writing “Godspell,” “Pippin” and “Wicked.”

The script is interesting because seven people contributed songs to the show and include: Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor.

The show seems to be more of a cabaret production than a book musical. Each actor plays several characters and sings about the pleasures and pains of the job the character has. The jobs vary: an ironworker, a fast-food worker, a school teacher, a Verizon tech support employee, a UPS delivery man, a prostitute, a mill worker and many more.

An audible gasp went up from the audience when five of the actresses were on their hands and knees scrubbing the stage floor. They looked exhausted and spent. Their song, “Cleanin’ Women,” is a salute to those women who clean for a hard-earned living.

Tim Welch played Joe Zutty, a retiree, who sings of attempting to find meaning in his life without work and with few social contacts. Welch’s scene ends with an elder-care worker (Michael Glavan) leading him off stage to the nursing home and/or death.

A four-piece orchestra accompanied the singers and the dancers. Those in the orchestra included Adam Day Howard (keyboard and conductor), Nick Greathouse (guitar), Frank McGill (bass), Bill Sallak (drums) and Jonathan Swoboda (consultant).

Scenic designer Nolan O’Dell created a functional set. The backdrop was a series of large gears. The floor was ramps and a few circular platforms painted to look like gears. The set worked well for the cast and the script.

Costume designer Susan Williams designed work clothes that seemed appropriate for the characters. She had everything from a waitress outfit, costumes for the cleaning women, truck-driver uniforms and suits and professional clothing for the office worker.

Director and choreographer Jim Weaver did an excellent job with the cast. Each performer played about three characters each and had to be a completely different character at almost every entrance. Weaver pulled it all together and gave the audience a meaningful production of “Working.”

This is a significant production. Most of us define ourselves by stating our work, which is one of the reasons why periods of recession and unemployment are so painful. The unemployed suddenly have lost a key bit of their identity and “Working” deals with these issues.

In her curtain speech, artistic director Terri Kent talked about her first job at Burger King and what she learned from that job. Her comments brought to mind my first job, bagging groceries and stocking shelves at Winn-Dixie. This production is sure to evoke memories and provide a pleasant evening in the theater.

For tickets, call 330-672-3884.

 

David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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