"Working," the current musical production of Rogue Community College's theater and music departments, is an extraordinary evening of theater. Professionally produced and superbly performed, it is joyful, thoughtful and incredibly moving.
Based on the 1974 oral history of working people by Studs Terkel, with book and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso and music by popular songwriters such as Schwartz, James Taylor, Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, Mary Rodgers and Lin-Manuel Miranda, "Working" recounts, through soliloquies, vignettes and musical numbers, how American workers really feel about their jobs.
What: Play based on Studs Terkel's "Working"
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, May 13, 18-20 and 25-27.
Where: Rogue Performance Hall on the Rogue Community College campus, Eighth Street and Central Avenue, Medford
Tickets: $12, $10 for students
Call: 541-245-7585 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This is not some Hollywood gloss on the working man or woman. There are no happy endings, no uplifting transformations, no glitz or glamour. Terkel's gift was his ability to listen to and record what his subjects were actually saying, how they did their jobs, what made their lives meaningful.
Producer John Cole and Director Ron Danko teach in the Humanities, and Speech and Theater Arts departments at RCC.
Music Director Christine Williams is formerly with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the teaching staff at Southern Oregon University, and the choreographer is Sandy Contreras, who teaches in RCC's Physical Education Department.
The 33 actors and singers in this production are a remarkably diverse group. Along with RCC students are nonstudent members of the community playing the older characters. Cole and Danko cast the roles taking into account the age and ethnicity of Terkel's people.
Against an intricate set of pallets, chain-link fencing, wire spools, scaffolding and boxes, we meet everyone from a high-rise ironworker to a subterranean parking jockey. We see the proud joy of a skilled mason, a supermarket checker and a waitress. We are introduced to the mind-dulling work of a factory-line worker, a migrant worker and a cleaning lady, as well as the stolen satisfactions of the UPS guy and the dangerous life of a fireman.
And there is always the universal desire to give a better life, to give something more, to one's children.
The play's varied composers bring different styles of music to the action. So, for example, the car-jockey Al gets a blues riff, the trucker is pure country-western, the supermarket checker is Motown rock, and the waitress is a witty combination of Broadway musicals.
The production employs a four-piece "orchestra" led by Brian Alec Thom, with keyboard, bass, guitar and drums. The singers provide the rest.
Cole, Danko and Contreras keep this large cast on a small stage moving and dancing and, at the same time, intimately connected to the audience. Williams has given the actors the confidence to use their talented voices to drive home the musical commentary.
But what really makes this production special is the cast. These students and community members are not professional actors. They are working people portraying working people.
Danko has commented that the biggest difficulty in producing the show has been working around everyone's work schedules. The cast biographies show how hard it is and what it takes to make a living in the Rogue Valley today. Studs Terkel's "Working" is not abstract here — it is real life.
The musical version of Terkel's book was first produced in 1977 in Chicago and opened on Broadway in 1978. It has been added to and updated through the years. The show is scheduled to have a new production in Los Angeles this summer.
"Working" plays in RCC's Rogue Performance Hall at 130 E. Eighth St., Medford, at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays, through May 27. Admission costs $12, $10 for students.
For information, call 541-245-7585 or see www.roguecc.edu/theatre.
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.