If there is one word to describe Working, running at Ridgefield’s A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) of Connecticut Feb. 14 through March 10, it would have to be authenticity. And groundbreaking ... but that’s two words.
Stephen Schwartz wrote and directed this musical, which made its Broadway debut in 1978, and has been mounted in revised form several times over the years. Schwartz based it on a book by Studs Terkel, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, for which he interviewed workers from various regions and jobs.
Schwartz is a renowned lyricist and composer (Wicked, Pippin and Godspell, to name a few) and certainly knows how to turn a phrase but to tell the stories of about a dozen different characters from all walks of life, Schwartz knew he needed to stay true to their authentic voices.
“At first, my intention was to write the score but as I continued to develop it ... I began to realize that some of the characters in order for me to write songs for them, I was essentially going to be imitating other styles. For instance, in the original show there was an African-American parking lot attendant, and I thought ... I’m going to be imitating someone else, why don’t I actually get someone who writes this way?” he told a rapt crowd at the Ridgefield Library that gathered there in mid-January to hear a conversation with Schwartz and ACT of CT’s artistic director Daniel C. Levine.
“If what we want to do here is really be authentic to the voices of characters who are going to be singing, why not find people who write in that genre rather than try to fake the genre?” Schwartz said.
Among the people who contributed music to Working over the years are Lin Manuel-Miranda, James Taylor, Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, Susan Birkenhead and Mary Rodgers.
Levine has long been a fan of this show. “This is one of those Broadway scores that got me interested in musical theater when I was a kid. I listened to it a million times, didn’t really know what I was processing but something spoke to me,” he said.