Review: ‘Working’ by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC has presented a production of the musical Working that perfectly captures the individual and collective spirit that embodies the strength and dignity of the working men and women who struggle with their jobs. The spirit of author Studs Terkel (who wrote the popular book Working on which this musical is based) hovers over this moving work. Terkel had a decidedly pro-union, anti-capitalistic bent that imbued his vision of the dignity and heroism of the working person.

Working, presented by the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC, performed February 9-10 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Image courtesy of Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC.
Working, presented by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, performed February 9-10 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Image courtesy of Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.

The human condition of the hard-working person is shown through a vast array of songs by such illustrious songwriters as Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Heartfelt, rigorous, and rhythmic choreography by Michael McGovern moves this production along with panache and vigor. The cast members deliver monologues on their individual working histories and then smoothly segue into musical numbers that are alternately witty, satiric or serious.

These scenes were played out on a functional yet very aesthetically pleasing set (set design by Steve Oatmeyer) with musical instrumental accompaniment by the four outstanding musicians Jason Sherlock (piano), Mary Scott (bass), Don Johns (drums) and Matthew Trimboli (guitar). Music Director Jason Sherlock conducts with aplomb and Stage Director Silvio Weisner pulls all the elements and layers of this production together with synergy and enhancement.

The song “All the Livelong Day” opened the show – with the entire cast dressed in striking black-tailored outfits (costumes by Emerito Amaro-Carambot and Gary Turner). Very interesting hand movements were interspersed throughout this jazzy song.

Huge video and projections by Michael B. Smith were projected at the rear of the stage to enhance every song.

The cast members had an exhilarating two hours and fifteen minutes to accomplish the performance feat of playing several characters, gender-switching to portray female characters, and speaking truth to power in their roles as struggling workers.

“Delivery” with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda was amusing and well-delivered (pun intended!) by Alex Tyson.

John O’Brien gave a knockout performance as a schoolteacher who ruminated musically about the changes he sees in different generations of his students in the song “Nobody Tells Me How.”

Dana Nearing was marvelously effective and comic as a supermarket checker in the song “I’m Just Movin’.”

Emerito Amaro-Carambot sang beautifully as a migrant worker in the Spanish song “Un Mejor Día Vendra.” Very captivating!

The joys of domestic bliss are contrasted with domestic blues in the somewhat melancholy, stoic, yet idealistic “Just a Housewife” by composer Craig Carnelia. Joshua Peterson sang with fervor.

The entire cast was assembled for the moving song of thwarted career dreams “If I Could’ve Been.”

Erich Sommerfeldt was a sensual delight as the Truck Driver and the UPS Driver. His comic timing was impeccable and he sang well in James Taylor’s “Brother Trucker.”

Michael McGovern was a very theatrical flight attendant with hilarious looks of exasperation, but he really stole the show in the song “It’s an Art” (by Stephen Schwartz). In this song – which was performed like a three-act play – McGovern portrayed a waitress with a highly amusing and self-confident air.

Perhaps the most “in-the-moment” and relaxed performance was given by Michael Toth in the song “Joe” with music and lyrics by Craig Carnelia. This lengthy, self-reflective song never dragged, for Toth gave every line just the right inflection and pauses. He commanded the stage as he sang of his everyday life as a retiree – wry and self-mocking at times. Bravo!

Romm Gatongay as the Ironworker brought tears to one’s eyes as he sang of the love between “Fathers and Sons.” This song showed the concern for the betterment of a son’s life by showing the example of fathers working hard (and the visual projections were especially heartfelt).

As a finale, the entire cast sang “Something to Point To,” which was a moving musical tribute to all working men and women who dream of having something to point to that they are proud of once they are gone.

Strong kudos to Cory Claussen, Michael Dumlao, Brian Jon Moran, and Mario Sengco, who performed with creativity and sang with polish.

When Working originally premiered in 1977, it never received the popular or critical acclaim it deserved, so it is a pleasure to see this underrated show get the revamping it deserves. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC under the Artistic Direction of Ms. Thea Kano has presented a production of Working that works exceedingly well!

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Working was presented February 9 and 10, 2019, by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC at the Sprenger Theatre of the Atlas Performing Arts Center located at 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC. For tickets and information on future GMCW productions, go online.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.