Theater Review: ‘Working! A Musical’ shines a light on labor issues

Hien Nguyen
Arts Editor

The University’s theater department production of “Working! A Musical” opened April 21 at the Dailey Theatre on the main campus and had its final show Sunday.

The musical, 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,” marks the department’s first in-person musical production in over two years.

The production brought to life interviews of the common U.S. working class from Terkel’s book with reflective and emotional monologues as well as exciting music performances. 

The cast of “Working! A Musical” made the artistic choice to keep their masks on while performing – a nod to the working class and a reflection of the struggles that the workforce still faces today as the tumultuous battle against COVID-19 continues.

Having been to the rehearsals a few weeks before opening night, and finally seeing the show in its full production – with cued lighting, theatrical smoke, costumes and set props – took the viewing experience to another level.

Upon arrival at the Dailey Theatre, attendees were greeted by staff at the snacks and ticketing table just outside the entrance door.

After checking in and donating a suggested amount of $5 per ticket, attendees are given an program including director’s notes from Alma Martinez, associate professor of theater, name and order of performances, and profiles of the musical cast and crew.

Nick McLean, junior theater and business major, checked attendees’ tickets at the door and shared his experience working as house manager.

“It’s definitely a different experience (being house manager) and gives me a new appreciation for this side of theater,” McLean said. “This is the first play we’ve done that I’m not in… it’s weird watching the show instead of performing on stage.”

The 11 members of the cast ensemble each took on multiple roles in the musical and showcased a range of different occupations like firefighter, socialite and elder caregiver on stage. 

As the lights dimmed, the full ensemble graced the stage performing their first song “All The Live Long Day.”

They were seen in simple black outfits and quickly changed into different costumes throughout the non-intermission musical.

Racks of costumes matching each occupation depicted in the musical were set on the two sides of the stage for easy access to the actors.

In a one-act format, the cast continuously delivered a mixture of acting, singing and dancing throughout the hour-long performance.

A few performances saw amazing choreography and prop use by the cast, like in “Delivery” where the ensemble served as background actors and rolled on scooters and skateboards as senior musical theater major Mitchell Calderilla sang his role of delivery boy Freddy Rodriguez.

After every performance, the audience gave enthusiastic claps to the performers on stage.

The intimate space of the Dailey Theatre made for an equally interactive experience between the cast and the audience. 

During several performances, the cast interacted with the audience by making eye contact or approaching them while delivering their lines. 

In a scene depicting union organizer Ali Epstein played by junior theater major Aleena Maestas, Epstein approached the audience by handing out flyers to protest against the Amazon labor.

The cast also made funny and insightful remarks like mentioning Circle K, a popular spot on the University’s campus to hang out, in a scene about unemployed students.

Some performances touched the audience, such as “Just A Housewife” performed by junior music education major Amber Napoli in the role of housewife Kate Rushton, while others brought up the house’s mood like “Brother Trucker” with truck driver Caroline Decker played by senior theater major Natalie Torres-Cruz and also performed by the entire ensemble.

The impressive work did not come from only those on stage but also those working hard behind the scenes by conducting the music and cuing the lighting, smoke and sound effects. 

During a scene with Mike Dillard the ironworker played by freshman theater and philosophy major Robby Meredith, the sounds of clanging metals transported the audience to a construction site.

Immediately after the show, the audience members were able to stay to engage in a lively conversation in a talk-back with the cast and production crew.

The talk is led by a different faculty and crew member on each of the show’s dates and the audience were able to get a behind-the-scenes look and the actors’ thoughts about the musical and their performances.

President Devorah Lieberman was present for the April 29 showing and said that she loved every minute of it and thought the substance of the message the cast delivered was important.

“Throughout the entire play, it reminded me that every job and every worker is important,” Lieberman said. “The way the students delivered their lines and their voices were beautiful… and to do this as we’re coming out of the pandemic and with masks on, they exceeded every expectation.”

“Working! A Musical” is a production that showcases many of the talented members among the University’s student body and as Lieberman said best, the University of La Verne’s theater department is as talented as any theater department in the country.

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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