At first glance, “Working,” a musical based on journalist Studs Terkel’s groundbreaking exploration of the nature of work in modern America, may seem like an odd choice to present at the holidays. But it makes sense when you think of how much muscle and thought goes into the business side of Christmas (someone has to transport, price, and then sell all those trees).
First produced on Broadway in 1978, “Working” is a rather odd musical in that it is devoid of any real plot. Instead, the production offers up a series of monologues exploring how specific jobs define us. And there is no shortage of occupations represented here: from stone mason and corporate raider to sex worker. The musical also boasts an impressive collection of songwriting talent that includes contributions from James Taylor, Stephen Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Credit director Christopher Chase Carter for being able to meld all these jobs and musical styles into one coherent production. It really is a wonder, given the diversity of the artistic creators and the decades that have passed since “Working” premiered, that everything flows as well as it does. At its best, “Working” offers a below-the-surface glimpse at the jobs we do. The cast, who effortlessly steps in and out of a multitude of roles (and in doing so creates dozens of characters), is impressive in their strong vocal performances.
Everything really does work quite well through the first act. It is a hard trick, though, to pull off a musical without a plot. Toward the end it feels a bit long, with the actual end point appearing as a rather arbitrary destination. Even the intermission felt random. I wonder what the experience would be like if this was presented in just one act with maybe a few jobs axed. As it exists right now, “Working” is an interesting and well-done production. But I am not sure I would recommend it to someone after a hard day’s work. (Noel Schecter)
Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, 721 Howard Street, Evanston, (800)595-4849, theo-u.com, $42-$57. Through January 26.