Working continues at the Southwark Playhouse, London until 8 July.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
We automatically celebrate the powerful and wealthy and often ignore ordinary people – people who do the jobs that others couldn’t bear to do – men and women who could’ve been great but have ‘settled’.
This is even truer when it comes to musical theatre. We watch an overlooked character overcome their fears, fulfil their hopes and dreams: become a star.
Stephen Schwartz’s rarely performed musical (also featuring the work of other leading composers including five-time Grammy Award winner James Taylor and the multi-award winning creator of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda), made its debut in 1978 on Broadway and is based on Studs Terkel’s interviews with unhappy workers – looking for meaning, and identity, within their work.
Director Luke Sheppard shines the spotlight on a cross section of American workers whose stories are interwoven on an intimate, dimly-lit black box stage, inviting the audience to be confidants to these characters.
Liam Tamne is powerful in his multiple roles – seamlessly changing character from fast food worker to stone mason.
He has good comic timing, which shines on ‘Delivery’, as he demonstrates his love of the escapism involved in going out on deliveries. The song showcases Tamne’s strong vocal range, supported by musical supervisor Alex Parker and band.
Peter Polycarpou is great as the retired Joe who nostalgically looks back at at a dance when he was 17 and the girl on his arm was like someone from a magazine. The members of the ensemble work well here as amused listeners.
The standout performer is Krysten Cummings – showing real versatility in all her roles.
First a woman who thinks of herself as ‘just a housewife’ – standing lonely on the stage – her voice cracking with emotion as she sings about having no real identity outside her children and husband.
Cummings then shakes off this character to transform into a witty high-class escort, and then morphs into a strong mother who won’t allow her child to be a domestic worker, like her.
She brings depth and warmth to characters who could simply be seen as stereotypes.
The main characters are supported by a great ensemble of recent graduates: Patrick Coulter, Nicola Espallardo, Luke Latchman and Izuka Hoyle, who make their professional debuts.
Each is a strong singer and performs Fabian Aloise’s choreography with ease. They maintain the pace of a piece which brings together many narratives. Without them, the piece could feel frantic.
Working doesn’t give us the traditional satisfaction of watching a character rising to great heights. It does something far more interesting. It celebrates the ordinary: the humble man and woman.