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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Top Job

How’s Your Job? Dept.: Celebrate the holiday with a look at one of the few shows that has tackled the subject: Working, based on the book by Studs Terkel. Here’s my review of the 1987 Cohoes Music Hall production, followed by a preview piece.


THE SET LOOKS LIKE an airplane hangar, dressed in corrugated tin with a battleship-gray raked deck. The cast is first seen in silhouette; one by one they reveal themselves to be performing, by rote, a task in pantomime.

Wilfore, Combest, and Barden in Working
The challenge Studs Terkel faced and met when he wrote Working was to keep intact the voices of the workers. To further refine those voices into a musical would seem restrictive indeed, but Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso fashioned an adaptation that even preserves those voices in the lyrics of the songs.

And the production currently on display at the Cohoes Music Hall is another success for Heritage Artists.

Director-choreographer David Holdgrive is by now an old friend, having staged so many acclaimed productions at this theater during the last two seasons. He brings his trademark energy to Working as a dynamic cast of thirteen brings us through the everyday lives of close to thirty different workers, each caught in the midst of The Job.

We’re talking car parker, newsboy, telephone operator, steelworker: all manner of job, all colors of collar. And the score, the product of a diverse bunch of songwriters, fleshes out these personalities with charm and humor.

Evan Bell, as a parking lot attendant, sparks the first act to life with “Lovin’ Al,” a song by Micki Grant, which ends with a doo-wah trio backing him up.

Not all the songs land square on the money; where James Taylor’s “Brother Trucker” is a nice celebration of over-the-road men, his “Un Mejor Dia Vendra” seems as if it would be better placed in a Weavers concert. Similarly, Schwartz’s hilarious “It’s an Art,” the song of waitress Freyda Thomas, begins the second act with a bang, while “Fathers and Sons” borders on the mawkish.

But, where the score may be inconsistent, the performances are not. And each person in the company has a stand-out moment. My favorite is Jack R. Marks’ wistful rendering of “Joe,” a song by Craig Carnelia that tells of the activities of a retiree. And Marks is every oldster who ever rotted on the streets of Palm Springs.

Also in the cast are Lois Barden, Christopher Combest, Jim Fryer, Consuelo Hill, James Hindman, Neil Nash, William P. Newhall, Jeff Penque, Kelley Sweeney, and Judi Wilfore.

Pianist Carol Ginsburg Gershman directs an ensemble of four others with an energy and precision that is every bit the match of what’s happening onstage.

Working plays through April 26.

Metroland Magazine, 16 April 1987


Labor of Love: Interview with Neil Nash

“It really hits home to the actor,” says Neil Nash, “because every actor, I don’t care how successful, has spent time doing something else. And this is a pretty universal thing, because all you need to have done to identify with this show is to have worked.”

Neil Nash
The show is Working, taken from the book by Studs Terkel. Nash is in the cast of the production that premieres Sunday at 7 PM at the Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes, and runs through April 26.

Nash himself spent several months in the traditional actor’s job: waiting on tables. “It’s funny,” he says. “There’s a woman in the show, a waitress, who loves her job and sings the song ‘It’s an Art.’ It’s a different perspective from my attitude – I hated it. I don’t know how happy I’d be doing anything other than acting.”

Director-choreographer David Holdgrive returns to supervise this production. The show represents an array of distinguished contributors. The adaptation was by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, and music came from Schwartz, James Taylor, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead. The lyrics, however, are mostly the product of the various people who talked to Terkel.

Nash celebrates the spirit of apprenticeship in his number. “I have a song about a mason, suggesting that I’m a younger version of him. And I do a montage of different roles. I’m a truck driver in one scene, an office sales manager in another.”

The cast of thirteen boasts varying individual backgrounds. “Most of us take on about three or four different occupations, “says Nash, “and it’s everything ranging from hookers to office workers.”

“I really do feel for the person who does the everyday work because of the nonrecognition that comes along with a job we just take for granted. I’ve done that and I’ve done things where I got positive strokes for what I was doing, and it makes such a difference. But in everyday things, in waiting, in sales – you don’t get that.”

“It’s appropriate for this area. There’s a lot of millwork, factory work, manual labor – a lot more hands-on type of labor than I see in New York. And we feel that if anyone in those businesses sees this show, those people will find that there life is right up there on stage.”

Also in the cast are Lois Barden Stilley, Evan Bell, Christopher Combest, Jim Fryer, Consuelo Hill, James Hindman, Jack R. Marks, William P. Newhall, Jeff Penquee, Kelley Sweeney, Freyda Thomas and Judi Wilfore.

Working previews tonight (Thursday) and Saturday at 8 PM. Preview tickets are $10; the gala opening Sunday is $14.50 with an after-show reception.

Regular performances continue at 8 PM Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 9 PM Saturdays and 2 PM Sundays with tickets priced from $12.50 to $14.50.

Tickets are available at CBO outlets and the Cohoes Music Hall box office. Or call 235-7969 for more info and charge orders.

Metroland Magazine, 2 April 1987

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