Monday, May 6, 2013

Working, the Musical, Blank Canvas Theatre

(From left: Sarah Edwards-Maag, Ian Atwood, Derrick Winger, Tasha Brandt, Doug Bailey, Joanna May Hunkins)

Most of us spend most of our lives working, and then complaining about that work. But deep down, there are satisfactions and rewards to be found in even the most mundane jobs.

At least, that’s the theory behind Working, the Musical, adapted from the Studs Terkel book. Terkel interviewed lots of plain working people from all walks of life and simply recorded their thoughts about their work lives. And it turned out to be a best seller, since the stories are often amusing, poignant and surprisingly insightful.

This adaptation by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, which has been localized by Blank Canvas, has many of the same qualities. We meet a dedicated fireman, a harried flight attendant, a conflicted housewife, and many other folks who spend their days working.

A couple of the people even emphasize how much they appreciate having a job at all, a cogent reminder of the long-term underemployment that this country (and city!) is still suffering.

BC’s six-person cast under the compassionate direction of Patrick Ciamacco presents more than two dozen distinctive people in different jobs. The songs, by a variety of composers, vary in quality but are often quite touching.

And the spoken words, taken directly from interviews with real people, pulse with genuine emotion. Although the individual performances vary and the singing voices aren’t always perfectly in tune, each member of the cast has strong moments.

Tasha Brandt delivers a solid rendition of “Millwork” by James Taylor, and she also sparkles in other roles including a harried flight attendant.

Doug Bailey has several telling moments, including as a fireman and a tech support person, and Joanna May Hunkins scores as project manager under the thumb of her boss.

Ian Atwood is a strong singer, even though his facial expressions tend to be a bit exaggerated. But he registers perfectly in “The Mason” by Craig Carnelia. And Sarah Edwards-Maag is splendidly oblivious as a fundraiser.

Derrick Winger is a credible ironworker and, at the end in another guise, his widower retiree Joe delivers a tender song written by Carnelia (“You wake at ten, fold up the bed/You don’t want to keep the couch open all day, it’s depressing.”).

However, the production is hampered by some questionable costume choices: an inner-city teacher who is dressed like a schoolmarm from Little House on the Prairie and a supposed $500-a-night whore who, based on her tight and ill-fitting pleather dress, would have a hard time charging $5 for a hummer).  

In addition, the multilevel platform dominating the small stage is great for posing the full cast. But it impedes free movement and gives the actors additional challenges to overcome, repeatedly hauling their buns up and down those steps.

Still, there is an undeniable sweetness to these real stories, and you won’t have to work hard to enjoy that aspect of this heartfelt show.

Working, the Musical 
Through May 18 at the Blank Canvas Theatre, 78th Street Studios, 1305 West 80th St., 440-941-0458

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