REVIEW: WORKING (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★★★

Working is a genre-defining musical based on Studs Terkel’s best-selling 1974 book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Put simply, Working is a musical about the everyday American’s daily working life. Look a bit closer and it’s so much more! With a book by Grammy and Academy Award winner Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked) and Nina Faso (Rags), Working features music by Schwartz, five time Grammy winner James Taylor, Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead. Employing their musical talents for the score, Working features many different musical styles and genres to tell it’s story. Opening on Broadway in 1978, Working was originally directed by it’s co-author Stephen Schwartz and featured a cast including Patti LuPone, Bob Gunton, Joe Mantegna, David Patrick Kelly and Rex Everhart. Since then the musical has undergone several revisions including the introduction of two songs by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lin Manuel-Miranda (In The Heights, Hamilton). Nearly 40 years after the musical’s Broadway debut, Southwark Playhouse are giving Working it’s European premiere with direction by Luke Sheppard (In The Heights).

Universally appealing, Working follows a series of everyday American’s working lives; their daily grind. Among many we meet the schoolteacher, the housewife, the fireman and the waitress and learn about their dreams and aspirations. Adapted from Terkel’s book featuring interviews of real American’s, Working is a fascinating look into the lives of often overlooked professions.

This production of Working cleverly presents itself as a series of work experiences for a group of six students. They record the workers stories on their cell phones and experience each characters job, often helping to tell the story or becoming one of the adult characters in their younger days. Featuring Gillian Bevan, Dean Chisnall, Krysten Cummings, Siubhan Harrison, Peter Polycarpou, Liam Tamne and six students from various schools making their professional debuts Patrick Coulter, Nicola Espallardo, Izuka Hoyle, Luke Latchman, Huon Mackley and Kerri Norville.

Gillian Bevan plays Rose Hoffman (a teacher), Candy Cottingham (a fundraiser) and Delores Dante (a waitress) and is absolutely flawless in each role. A scene stealer, Bevan creates three completely different characters who are fun, affecting and moving. Her vocal performance in each role is sublime performing Nobody Tells Me about how teaching and children have changed and It’s An Art explaining the proud duty of waitressing, with seasoned gusto. Dean Chisnall plays Rex Winship (a corporate boss), Frank Decker (a long-haul truck trucker), Conrad Swibel (a salesman), Mason Soloist, Tom Patrick (a fireman) and Ralph Werner (a tie salesman). Chisnall’s vocal performance was beautiful, expertly handling the score and giving a polished overall performance. Krysten Cummings plays Amanda McKenny (an office worker), Kate Rushton (a housewife), Roberta Victor (a call girl) and Maggie Holmes (a cleaner). Cummings performances as Kate Rushton and Maggie Holmes were particularly affecting. As Kate Rushton, Cummings sang the beautiful Just A Housewife with a small controlled power and as Maggie Holmes blew the roof off the Southwark with a powerful performance of Cleanin’ Women, a mother singing about wanting more for her daughter.

Siubhan Harrison plays Terry Mason (a stewardess), Sharon Atkins (a receptionist), Grace Clements (a millworker) and Theresa Liu (a nanny). Harrison’s combined characterisation and beautiful vocal created a powerful performance. She practically shone during her turn as stewardess Terry Mason and Nany Theresa Liu singing A Very Good Day, a song about caring for children of careless parents. Peter Polycarpou portrays Mike Dillard (a steelworker), Eddie Jaffe (a publicist) and Joe Kutty (a retiree). Each moment Polycarpou is onstage is a chance for him to shine and he doesn’t disappoint his audience. His beautiful singing voice lends itself well to the score and I was particularly entranced by his performance as retiree Joe Kutty singing Joe, a song about his life and how it doesn’t stop when you retire. Liam Tamne rounds the cast of six adults with his performance as Freddy Rodriquez (a takeout delivery driver), Raj Chadha (a phone tech support), Allen Epstein (a community organiser), Anthony Coelho (a mason), Utkarsh Trujillo (a caregiver) and Charlie Blossom (a copy boy). Tamne’s fun energy onstage added to the plethora of talent on display in Working, his performances as takeout delivery driver Freddy Rodriquez and caregiver Utkarsh Trujillo were affecting highlights. Flashing the audience his cheeky grin, Tamne’s characterisation and vocal performance flawless throughout.

The six students were a welcome addition to the cast, providing backup vocals, modern dance moves and a youthful presence onstage, eager to learn. Particular credit is given to Luke Latchman who seemed always present, in the moment and alive onstage. A talent to keep an eye on as his career progresses.

Working at the Southwark Playhouse is a brilliant production, featuring a beautifully varying score and wonderfully affecting performances. Another triumph for the theatre and director Luke Shepard alike, Working deserves to be seen and I’m very happy the everyday Londoner now has the chance.

Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Robert Workman

Working plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 8 July 2017