Albums

Working – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1978

Working – Original Broadway Cast Recording 1978

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Synopsis

2001 Notes on Working from the instigator Stephen Schwartz I first became intrigued with Working shortly after the publication of Studs Terkel’s book, when I read a review which contained some excerpts. One of the excerpts was the interview with Heather Lamb, the telephone operator, who said, “It’s something to run into somebody who says, ‘How’s your day been, operator, busy? Has it been a rough day?’ You’re so thankful for those people.” I realized that I was one of the other kind of people – the kind who was not only impatient with operators, but who on some level viewed them as functions rather than human beings. I suppose you could call it a consciousness-raising moment. I got the book, and somewhere in the middle of reading it I began to hear music in my head. I contacted Studs in Chicago and told him I was interested in adapting Working as a musical. He thought it was a fairly crazy notion – after all, there was no story, his book being simply a series of interviews with real people. But I flew out to Chicago, and eventually my passion for the project, if not my good sense, won him over. In collaboration with my friend Nina Faso, with whom I had worked on Godspell, I began to select the characters that I felt were most stageworthy and edit their interviews down to more manageable length. We collected some actor friends of ours, most of whom had been in various productions of Godspell, and began to work on the interviews a couple of days a week in workshop. The main rule of this workshop was that no idea was too stupid to try. Many interesting ideas emerged from it, including Nina’s notion of having the phone operators speak simultaneously and in counterpoint, which sounded nutty when she suggested it but remains in the show today. I began to work on songs, and it quickly became apparent to me that there was such a variety of characters and ethnicities that if I were to write the entire score a lot of what I was writing would be pastiche or imitations of other people’s styles. Since I felt the songs should have more authenticity than that, I decided it would be better to have a team of songwriters approach the characters, and I began to recruit collaborators. Micki Grant, James Taylor, and Craig Carnelia were among those I approached first, and I was delighted when they signed on, along with the team of Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead. Among those I approached who ultimately turned me down were Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. But my biggest disappointment was that after the score was completed and it was too late to add more songs and characters, I got a call from Billy Joel volunteering his services. To this day, I would love to hear what he would have written! Since its premiere in 1978, Working has been performed all over the country, and indeed throughout the world. Recently, because it is based on interviews conducted by Studs in the 1970s, and because the workplace has changed so much since then, portions of the show had become seriously dated. So in 1999, with the help of Studs and Nina once again, I conducted some new interviews with contemporary workers and replaced the most dated material in the show. I wrote a new song for the supermarket checker which acknowledges the arrival of scanners and bar codes, etc. My fellow songwriters joined me in updating their lyrics. Consequently there is now a new version of Working being performed which reflects today’s workplace. I only hope that a generation or two from now I’ll be around and have the energy to update Working again!

– Stephen Schwartz, April 17, 2001

1978 Notes on Working from the source: Studs Terkel When Stephen Schwartz, out of the blue, suggested the book Working as the “book” for a musical, I was astonished. A most unlikely idea, I thought. At first. The more he talked about it, the more enthusiastic he became, the more my doubts were assuaged. I was attracted toward his vision. Something told me he had something; it was more than just a musical. It was a celebration of the “ordinary” people, whose daily lives are unsung. He would sing about them, the anonymous many whose lives touch ours every day without our realizing it. Go ahead, I said. And he did. The result is a work of the theatre, in which the heroes and heroines, seldom memorialized, speak and sing out their workaday lives. The words heard on the stage and in this album are, to a remarkable degree, the words of the book. Even the songs, composed by highly gifted artists, contain lyrics that have come from the tongues of those uncelebrated bards who work in our factories, offices, and kitchens. I am astonished, yet not astonished. Here’s why: Several years ago, when my adventure began, gathering material for the book, I had no preconceived notion of how people felt about their jobs. I was vaguely aware of an undercurrent of restlessness and discontent, of grievances, spoken and unspoken. What I was searching for was something more specific: the thoughts and feelings of those people in their own words. What I discovered, aside from attitudes, was a buried language. The lingo of “ordinary” people is quite extraordinary, once the conditioned clichés are cut away. There is a rough beauty to the talk, at times touching the poetic. Putting these words to music came naturally to the imaginative young composers who worked on the musical Working. What’s the theme of Working, the book and the musical? It’s about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday-through-Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of these heroes and heroines. In a sense, they were speaking for all of us. There are, to be sure, the happy ones who find savor in their daily job: the stonemason, who looks upon his work and sees that it is good. There is the waitress, whose pride and skill help her make it through the night: “When I put the plate down, you don’t hear a sound. When I pick up a glass I want it to be just right. When someone says, ‘How come you’re just a waitress?’ I say, ‘Don’t you think you deserve being served by me?’” There is the checker at the supermarket, who transforms a humdrum job into a work of art. There is the veteran car hiker who sings out: “I can drive any car like a baby, like a woman change her baby’s diaper. Lots of customers say, ‘How you do this?’ I’d say, ‘Just the way you bake a cake, miss.’” There is the fireman, whose pride is as deep as his work is hard. His lot is a perilous one, yet he persists because, as he says of his colleagues, “You actually see them produce. You see them put out a fire. You see them give mouth-to-mouth when a guy’s dying. You can’t get around that shit, it’s real. To me, that’s what I want to be. I can look back and say, ‘I helped put out a fire. I helped save somebody.’ It shows something I did on this earth.” He’s found a piece of immortality. During my three years of working on the book, I was something of a prospector; I may have, on more occasions than I had imagined, struck gold. I was constantly astonished by the extraordinary dreams of ordinary people. No matter how bewildering the times, no matter how dissembling the official language, those we call ordinary are aware of a sense of personal worth, no matter how demeaning their jobs may seem. Their spirit transcends. Stephen Schwartz and his songwriting companions – Craig Cornelia, Micki Grant, James Taylor, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, have gloriously captured this spirit.

– Studs Terkel, 1978

Credits

David Langston Smyri David Patrick Kelly Matthew McGrath Bobo Lewis Matt Landers Joe Mantegna Patti LuPone Susan Bigelow Robin Lamont Lynne Thigpen Arny Freeman Lenora Nemetz Bob Gunton Kenna Ramsey from the LA Theater Works production Original songs by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Mary Rodgers/Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, and James Taylor Adapted and directed by Stephen Schwartz Musical Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Stephen Reinhardt