“Working” breaks musical stereotype

Jess Vogt

“Everyone should have something to point to,” sings the cast at the end of “Working.” Senior Matt Murphy certainly has something to point to – the Lawrence University Musical Production-sponsored musical “Working.”
The show, which Murphy directed and produced, shows this weekend, giving glimpses into the lives of blue-collar workers.
“Working” is based on Studs Terkel’s book by the same name. The book of interviews with working-class Americans was set to music by a diverse group of composers, including notables such as James Taylor and Stephen Schwartz.
The realistic musical contains no one continuous story, but is instead a collection of monologues, scenes and songs woven together by common themes and artfully mastered verbal and visual transitions.
“These songs aren’t typical of musical theater,” commented Murphy. “It’s not all fanfare and roses anymore.”
“They’re true to the character,” choreographer Becca Young added. “It flows really organically.”
This is fitting for a musical about real life that is fundamentally grounded in real people with real stories.
Unlike typical musical theater, “Working” uses segments taken from actual interviews with blue-collar American workers as dialogue and monologue to create a portrait of working-class life.
“It’s not the real stage,” Murphy continued. “Getting actors out of the ‘theater’ has been hard.”
“We focused on working-related movements,” said Young. The senior’s choreography adds to the realness of the show.
The actors have done intense text work, focusing on the subtle nuances of the characters, rather than the sometimes over-the-top character work of typical musical theater.
“You’re actually being a person,” not a character, Murphy said. “You have to be a little more introverted, a little more emotionless.”
Yet the five-man, four-woman show is anything but emotionless.
There are heart-wrenching moments that bring tears to your eyes, moments that make you laugh, and ultimately, moments where you realize the fundamental power possessed by real people in this world.
In celebration of the different types of people in this world, “Working” exhibits a range of musical genres, including jazz, rock, folk, musical theater, rhythm and blues and even Mexican folk.
The five-piece pit more than adequately handles this variety, and is as much a part of the show as the actors.
“They really groove,” said Murphy. “At times it starts to edge to the rock concert vein.”
And the cast exudes such a life-giving energy that the audience cannot help but smile watching them. Their power and poise lend the show a life of its own.
This is as it should be, for a show about real life. The trials of the working class are not something the majority of the Lawrence community is typically exposed to.
“There’s a lot of looking down on the blue-collar workers,” said Murphy. “It’s really important to show that everyone around us – even if we may not see it – actually contributes to making the heartbeat of America pulse.”
There is power and a message in this musical, making it more than worth the two hours spent watching.
“We’re all contributing to the same whole,” Murphy summarized. “I really hope that people come out to see that.”
The show takes place in Cloak Theatre on Fri., April 13 at 8 p.m. and Sat., April 14 at 3 p.m.
Tickets are available at the Lawrence University Box Office, $10 for adults, $5 for senior citizens and students. Admission for LU students, faculty and staff is free.