Asolo Repertory Theatre and composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz, with a helping hand from Broadway phenom Lin-Manuel Miranda, gave author Studs Terkel a fine gift when they unwrapped their potent update of Working: A Musical on Friday, the legendary Chicagoan's 96th birthday.
Asolo's production of the musical Schwartz first adapted from Terkel's oral history in the '70s and updated for this run is exciting theater. The uniformly excellent cast of six, under Gordon Greenberg's pitch-perfect direction, brings a full spectrum of working men and women, from firefighter to call girl, to vibrant life against a triple-decker set worthy of a New York stage.
The opening night performance received a standing ovation from a packed house and deserved it.
Miranda, whose In The Heights just picked up a remarkable 13 Tony nominations, wrote two songs for the Asolo production. Delivery bursts with the rush of freedom a young burger flipper (exuberantly sung and danced by Nehal Joshi) feels when a takeout order is phoned in and he's dispatched on the liberating errand. In A Very Good Day, two caregivers, a nanny and an elderly man's attendant, evoke in quieter but no less heartfelt terms the little victories that make doing the work "nobody else wants to do" not only bearable but, on a good day, rewarding.
Other standout performances include those by Marie-France Arcilla, who led the versatile ensemble in James Taylor's heartbreaking Millwork, and Liz McCartney, who made the audience appreciate not only the hard work but also the theatrical possibilities of being a waitress in Schwartz's It's An Art.
The great thing is that everyone in the cast (Darrin Baker, Colin Donnell and Danielle Lee Greaves are the three accomplished actors not yet mentioned) is just right. Their chemistry is powerful.
John Bancroft is a Sarasota writer specializing in food and arts. He may be reached at [email protected]