Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Tag: Prospect Theater Company

Review | Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

… singing about work …

People talked about working in Studs Terkel’s oral history book of 1974, Working:  People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do — in Working, the musical, they sing about it.

It’s a great idea — as composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz — of Godspell and Wicked —  thought when he first brought Working to the stage not long after the publication of Terkel’s book.  Revised and performed through the years, in its current version it’s an engaging and at times moving series of fine musical numbers (though I wish there were no rhymes, see below), beautifully performed by a cast of six who, all in all, take the parts of twenty-six characters and sing in the ensemble.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters


With the words taking the lead, as they should here, and with some excellent music by leading professional composers, we catch the poetry, the accuracy and the deep feelings behind what people said to Terkel:  a fireman (L), a felt dyer in a luggage factory (what a hard, messy, grinding job that is) , an interstate trucker, a cleaning lady, a housewife and others — now singing what they like and don’t like, and what meanings they find and don’t find — in their workaday work.  All except for Joe, retired, who has that to tell us about.  The performers segue in and out of their sung vignettes on the lower part of the handsomely designed stage as a fine foursome of musicians play behind a scrim above.

Work has ground down some of the workers:  through Marie-France Arcilla’s singing of the assembly line dyer of felt pads, I felt empathy with her, caught in a messy, exhausting trap.  Some workers are weary but Maggie Holmes (R), singing the cleaning lady, let me share her hope that there will be a better life for her daughter — to be addressed by her last name (I wondered how that daughter’s doing, 38 years later).  Jay Armstrong Johnson as the mason conveys an inspiring pride:  stone lasts, and leaves you “Something To Point To,” the title of the last — uplifting — song in the show.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

On the other hand, Joe Cassidy, as the publicists who made more money than most, conveys the emptiness of not having anything to point to after years of work (maybe; it’s ambiguous).  Nehal Joshi (below L) gives an hilarious edge to the ex-newsroom assistant who makes plain to the audience what he himself can’t see, that is, why he can’t keep a job: in all his parts he touches the heart with his blend of sadness and wry humor.   Saving the best for last (my best but my friends had other favorites):  the performance of Donna Lynne Champlin (R) as the gutsy waitress proclaiming of her job, “It’s an Art;”  it’s memorable — a first rate musical theater moment.  (I looked after seeing the show and sure enough, that was one of the few songs written by Stephen Schwartz himself.)

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

Two things troubled me about this production, the microphones, and the rhymes.

These six performers are all fine singers and actors:  why oh why were they miked???  There’s no need for it — as professionals, they know how to make themselves heard.  (And the show is in a rather small theater.)  The microphones the performers wear diminish the sense of immediacy that draws one to “live theater:”

I found that the rhymes in the songs, though often clever, undercut the authenticity that Working depends on.  The strength of the show lies in our awareness that we’re hearing the very words spoken by real people from different walks of life — and real people don’t (at least not very often!) talk in rhymes.  Without that sense of the genuine, this already loosely jointed musical thins out toward a series of show songs.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

Though it doesn’t quite gel as the unified musical the creators intend, Working is highly entertaining and satisfying, like an exceptionally varied and unusually thought provoking evening of cabaret.

Working, A Musical | From the Book by Studs Terkel | Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso | Contributions by Gordo Greenberg | Prospect Theater Company | 59E59 Theaters

Working plays in midtown Manhattan at 59E59 theaters through December 30, 2012.

I Married Wyatt Earp

Review | I Married Wyatt Earp | Musical and Book by Thomas Edward West and Sheilah Rae | Lyrics by Sheila Rae | Music by Michelle Brourman | Prospect Theater Company and New York Theatre Barn

I Married Wyatt Earp

Throwing convention to the winds, a girl from a well-to-do San Francisco Jewish family joins a traveling theater troupe to get herself to the wild west, where she meets and marries, well, common law, Wyatt Earp — what a promising idea for a musical!

And in many ways the promise is fulfilled.  There are great production numbers, beautifully performed — see I Married Wyatt Earp and you’ll have a good time.  And the idea’s original, too — a Western with no men!  Instead, the story, loosely based in real characters and events, is told through a cast of 11 women, the idea being to place the women’s lives center stage, although that doesn’t work quite as well as it might.

The wives (common-law and otherwise)  of the three Earp brothers are living together as a tight knit family in the silver boom-town of Tombstone, Arizona when Josie Marcus, the San Francisco outlier, arrives.  She creates quite a stir as a singer-dancer, and in giving up another man for Wyatt Earp, “the love of her live.”

Earp’s common-law wife of the time, Mattie, a laudanum addict, tortured now by jealousy, is driven to violence first directed at Josie and then turned inward.  In an ironic turnaround of a traditional Western, Mattie, the weakest of the women, is the one who brandishes the long barreled silver revolver.  But she dies of a suicidal overdose, leaving Josie with Wyatt and a sense of guilt — though not enough to shake her sparkle.

I Married Wyatt Earp is framed as a play within a play:  at the start, we see Josie, now 81 years old, and Allie, widow of Wyatt’s brother Wilbur, age 90, in Josie’s apartment for an evening of settling old scores and — booze at hand — finding some amicable resolution to their conflicts.  Allie blames Josie for Mattie’s death, and for creating the myth of Wyatt Earp as the toughest law-man, fastest gun and greatest entrepreneur of the West when the crown should have gone to her husband.

As they reminisce, scenes of their young lives — the loves, the drama, humor, workaday pleasures and pains — rise up vibrantly before our eyes.  One of the most powerful aspects is the way the old Josie and Allie move among their young selves, bending over them, observing, and sometimes — it’s absolutely beautiful to see — singing along.  Of course they can’t change anything – even if they wanted to.  This is marvelously done.

Other great strengths are the musical numbers, and there are lots of them, this is a real musical and a feast of singing — solos, duets, quartets and ensembles.  Some of the titles give the flavor:  “High Class Attraction,” “They Got Snakes Out Here,” “Pins and Needles,” “Didya Hear?” (gossip!).  Some of the rhymes are too obvious, still, often I felt I was watching the next great musical.

There’s a problem with the musical’s book, though.  The intent is to focus on the women’s lives but the depiction of their lives is incomplete and confused.  It’s implied constantly that they work hard, but at what and why is not clear.  At running the bar?  We first meet the wives at the Earp-owned bar where Josie has just arrived and performs with the theatrical troupe (in a rousing number!).  We do see young Allie carry in a crate of bottles but that’s it:  there are no customers, nobody serves a drink, wipes a table or mops a floor … and after that scene the bar pretty much disappears.

Later we find the wives singing about the hard work they do to pay the rent by sewing tents for miners (“Pins and Needles”).   Pay the rent?  Maybe everyone had to pitch in, but we know their husbands are well employed in law enforcement and own a silver mine:  surely they’d be paying the rent, not their wives.  Here and elsewhere, touches of pathos are arbitrarily planted trading on the assumption that we all know that women were exploited and had to work hard so we’ll be sympathetic automatically and it doesn’t much matter what they’re shown working hard at doing.

Conveying the lives of women whose lives are inextricably tied to those of men, without men, accounts for some of the problems.  So much so that for the episode of the famous Shootout at OK Corral where the Earp brothers wipe out their rivals, the play resorts to the actual presence of males, but as shadowy, silhouetted, forms, all in black, faces hidden by western hats.  Still, I think that with the loose ends more carefully tied, and the women’s activities and relationships with the men (even unseen) clarified,  the all-female cast could be maintained.

Take the idea of focusing on the lives of the women to its conclusion — and really do it!

Also, we need to have a deeper sense of Josie — a cliche like “he’s the love of my life” is not enough to bring us close to this feisty woman and the unusual choices she makes.

All the roles are sung, danced and played beautifully – this is a well cast show.  Mishaela Faucher has the singing, dancing and acting strength to hold the play together as its main character.  I was particularly fascinated by the wry wisdom of Carolyn Mignini as the older Josie.  Tina Stafford is irresistible — tough and extraordinarily graceful in the “pants role” of leader of the theatrical troupe.  Karla Mosley is a great showgirl, with charismatic vitality and beauty.

With some strengthening of the book, this could be the next great musical but here and now it’s an engaging, fun-filled delight.

I Married Wyatt Earp  plays at 59 E 59 theater in NYC through June 12.

I Married Wyatt Earp



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