Working: The Musical is the premier oeuvre from the area’s newest theatre company, Panic! Productions, and, for the most part, “Working” works.
Adapted into a musical by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, “Working” is based on Studs Turkel’s best-selling book. Terkel, a true American original, crafted an oral history, a timeless ode to earning a living. This “Working” dishes out sometimes amusing, sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, monologues, ballads and anthems.
Schwartz’ music is supplemented with classic tunes by James Taylor, Micki Grant and others. A vocal standout is Karen Sonnenschein with her heartfelt rendering of Taylor’s classic “Millwork.” Best music numbers included “Traffic Jam” and “Fathers and Sons.”
As the show progresses, the voices are better blended in crowd numbers like “All the Livelong Day. At times, vocals competed rather than blended harmoniously, and at least one veteran singer, who has toured the globe, was apparently directed to sing softly, a disappointment. Also curious is why a few singers were muted.
Still, directed by Robert Weibezahl, with Mona King choreography, the show engaged and moved. We could all relate to concepts such as the office’s “brotherhood of cubicle cuties” or the sassy waitress. The ensemble cast labored to bring professions to life. In “Lovin’ Al,” Dan Tullis, Jr.’s perky parking attendant won many laughs.
Among others scoring higher points were David Sheftell, with comedic portrayals of a UPS worker and maitre d’, making his singing debut and observing, “the biggest part of an (aggressive) dog’s life is when the UPS man comes.”
Mona King’s “Housewife,” was convincing–with kids, laundry, dishes, walking the dog, shopping, trying to lose weight, picking things up–“all it is, is just my life…what I do is out of fashion.”
The work tells the tale of the stonemason, fireman, trucker, teacher, salesman, phone operator: a cross section of life, skills (or lack there of) and fate. Pungent lines that linger long past the curtain, include one from the fourth-generation cleaning woman (Carolyn Freeman Champ), who dreamed her daughter would “not be on her knees unless she’s praying.”
Show producer Paul Panico, with Weibezahl, put this together in six weeks. Ambitiously reworked, the show could be shortened.
“I read ‘Working’ and it changed my way of looking at the world,” said writer Schwartz in the production notes.
It will also change yours.
Experience Working: The Musical through Sept.11 at the Theatre on the Hill (403 W. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks). Make reservations by calling 805-381-1246 or visiting their web site.