‘Working! A Musical’ honors real stories of working class

“Working! A Musical” honors the working class through real stories and representation. The cast – (from left to right) Katelyn Graham, Robby Meredith, Vincent Briseño, Claire Ng, Reese Oliver, Mitchell Calderilla, Hannah Steinmann and Aleena Maestas – practice for the ensemble number “All The Live Long Day" during rehearsal April 7 in Dailey Theatre. / photo by Jingyao Liang
“Working! A Musical” honors the working class through real stories and representation. The cast – (from left to right) Katelyn Graham, Robby Meredith, Vincent Briseño, Claire Ng, Reese Oliver, Mitchell Calderilla, Hannah Steinmann and Aleena Maestas – practice for the ensemble number “All The Live Long Day” during rehearsal April 7 in Dailey Theatre. / photo by Jingyao Liang

Hien Nguyen
Arts Editor

Every weekday from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Dailey Theatre, a group of University of La Verne theater students have been rehearsing for “Working! A Musical.”

“Working! A Musical” marks the first in-person musical production since the beginning of the pandemic for the department, and it opens in the Dailey Theatre on Thursday. 

“I think we can all use some singing and dancing after hard COVID times,” said the play’s director, Alma Martinez, associate professor of theater.

“Working! A Musical” was adapted from the 1974 nonfiction book by Studs Terkel titled “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do” which features real interviews of common working-class people across the United States.

Martinez said the department chose this play because it is a celebration of the working class and a way to honor the workers through their stories.

From fast food workers to factory workers, housewives to cleaners, truck drivers to flight attendants, students immerse themselves in their respective roles and have been practicing a combination of acting, singing and dancing with experienced mentors since January term.

The cast begins rehearsals with vocal exercises led by adjunct professor and the musical’s music director Ariel Pisturino.

“It’s important to start out rehearsals in a good mood so I try to change it up with the vocal exercises to make sure they’re fun,” Pisturino said. “We’ve been integrating dancing in the warm up as well.”

Pisturino emphasized how the musical is an ensemble show so everyone is integral to every scene and has been extremely dedicated.

For many, including junior theater arts major Julieta Del Toro, and sophomore theater arts major Vincent Briseño, this production is their first musical at the University.

Del Toro plays multiple roles in the musical including a third-grade teacher, a migrant farm worker and a nanny.

She said the show continues to challenge everyone in different ways as far as acting and interpretation, but appreciated that the monologues are actual accounts from people in different professions. 

“I didn’t plan on this but my mother is an elementary teacher and my father is a migrant farm worker so right off the bat, I see my parents on stage and I get to put myself in their shoes,” Del Toro said. 

She wants people who come to the show and watch the musical to empathize with careers that have nothing to do with their own.

“I play characters who are, in their own capacity, blue collar workers who people don’t really give a second thought to,” Del Toro said. “I hope that my performance makes people realize that these people deserve our respect just as much as the CEOs of large corporations.”

Briseño has previously participated in a play with the department before over Zoom during peak of COVID and is excited to be involved in an in-person production this school year.

He is in charge of the show’s grand finale with his role as a cleaning woman accompanied by an upbeat and powerful belting music number.

“Singing wise, it is a very vocally demanding song and emotionally, it also took me a while to find who she really is and get really into her story,” Briseño said. “Before I come to rehearsals I like to listen to the soundtrack in the car on the way to just vibe and get into character.”

Similar to Del Toro, Briseño felt like the themes in “Working! A Musical” resonate with the loved ones in his life, particularly his father.

“I see some aspects of my character in how my dad is,” Briseño said. “My dad has always done whatever he can to provide the things we have now whether it’s flipping cars or whatever side hustles he does on top of working his normal 9-to-5 job every day.”

Other than current undergraduate students, the department welcomed University of La Verne alumna Erica Lopez-Elwell, who graduated in Spring 2021, to conduct the show.

“I was invited by Ariel to do the show and my job is to make sure everyone goes on stage on cue and that the piano starts and ends when it needs to,” Lopez-Elwell said. “It was certainly very daunting at first because I’ve never had a directing position but this has been so much fun.”

Lopez-Elwell is most excited for the metamorphosis number featuring a dance solo by junior theater arts major Claire Ng.

“I think it’s the most involved number conducting wise since it’s just me and the piano,” Lopez-Elwell said.

Through dance, Ng brings the dissimilar monologues of a sex worker and a socialite together.

“I’m trying to tie both actors together and share the emotions from both of them since they are from such different economic and social standing,” Ng said.

Even in front of empty theater seats and without stage costumes nor stage lighting yet, those involved in the production still put their best foot forward during rehearsals as if they were performing to a full house.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a show!” Martinez exclaimed after the group wrapped up the musical’s final ensemble performance of “All The Live Long Day” and the three-hour rehearsal session two weeks prior opening night.

“Working! A Musical” shows on April 21 through 23 and April 28 through 30 at 7 p.m., and May 1 at 2 p.m. at the Dailey Theatre located on main campus. 

Tickets are $5 for general admission.

For More information, visit laverne.edu/event/working-a-musical/all or call 909-448-4386.

Hien Nguyen can be reached at hien.nguyen2@laverne.edu.

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Hien Nguyen, a senior journalism major and psychology minor, is arts editor for the Campus Times. She has previously been a staff writer.

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Jingyao Liang, a junior business administration major and photography minor, is a staff photographer for the Campus Times.

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