Back in 1974, author and historian Studs Terkel published a collection of stories of the American worker called Working. In 1978 Stephen Schwartz and others adapted the book into a short-lived Broadway musical. (Yes, Stephen Schwartz, “the Wicked guy”. He wrote even better stuff than that, you know.) However, Working was only short-lived in the sense that it ran on Broadway for (including previews) just one month. In actuality, the musical has had a healthy life in regional theatre, was adapted for television in 1982, and was recently revised again in 1999. The show’s "underground" success is due in no small part to the universality of the stories. Struggling to get to the top, finding one’s place in the world, taking pride in a job well done, working for idiot bosses, and wanting a better life for one’s family are themes that resonate with all people, regardless of geography, wealth, or culture. It is a sometimes sad, sometimes proud, and often very funny celebration of the human experience, and, when it is done well, it is a powerful theatrical experience.
This was especially true of the performance that I saw tonight by the talented ensemble cast in the National Theatre Conservatory Program’s production of Working at the Tramway Theatre.
The crowd (and I along with them) was moved to an immediate standing ovation at the curtain call, and I don’t mean one of those sycophantic, “look-I’m-a-bigger-fan-of-theatre-than-you-are” inspired ovations that one sees all too often for shows that really don’t deserve it. This was an "it-would-be-obscene-to-remain-seated-after-so-great-a-show” ovation. The versatile cast of nine deliver these songs and stories with such enthusiasm and virtuosity that they are a walking (and dancing, and singing) billboard for the quality of the American National Theatre Academy here in the heart of Denver.
A particular stand-out is native New Yorker Maria-Christina Oliveras whose vivacious presence probably should have earned her a lighting design credit for the illumination that her winsome smile alone brought to the stage. Oliveras goes on my “names to watch” list.
On that subject, I have received some mild criticism (and by “criticism” I mean that objects have been thrown) for the fact that the actors who go on my “list” are all very comely women. My first reaction, is to cry, “Untrue!” Look at the list: Michelle Merz, Courtney Capek, Emily-Paton Davies, Jennifer Forsyth . . . okay, so it is true, but it is also true that these women are extremely talented performers.
Oliveras is no exception as a brilliant comedic and dramatic actor and an engaging and powerful vocalist. That having been said, of course: Hubba, Hubba, Hubba.
Working runs in rep with The Elephant Man through April 28 at the Tramway Theatre. Tickets are a bargain at $16.