CHICAGO (CBS) – Almost 40 years after the late, great Studs Terkel wrote an oral history called Working, the musical play based on the book is back on stage in Chicago.
As WBBM Newsradio 780′s Regine Schlesinger reports, Working, a 1974 bestseller, was a compilation of ordinary people talking about their jobs and what they did for a living.
LISTEN: Newsradio 780′s Regine Schlesinger reports
Four years later, with Terkel’s collaboration, it was turned into a musical at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre.
“Stephen Schwartz, who created – we all know ‘Wicked’ – in addition to ‘Pippin,’ and ‘Godspell,’ and many other fantastic shows, found Studs’ book right after it was published and he thought, ‘This is a chorus line for “Working,”’” said Gordon Greenberg, who is directing an updated and revised version.
The musical features 26 workers, among them a parking lot attendant, a corporate executive, a schoolteacher, a housewife, a firefighter and a mill worker. They sing and talk about their jobs, and their aspirations.
The legendary James Taylor was on the songwriting team for the musical.
The show opened on Broadway on May 14, 1978, and was a flop on the Great White Way.
“Broadway at that time was the culture of glitz and glamour and drugs, and fabulous late ’70s life, and they didn’t want to see real people,” Greenberg said.
“Working” has since been staged several times. In recent years, updated versions of the play were staged at the Asolo Reparatory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., and the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.
In 2009, Schwartz revisited the musical and added new numbers by composer Lin-Manuel Miranda of “In the Heights” fame. After further revisions, it was ready for the stage again in Chicago.
Greenberg said now, the updated version is very relevant.
“Being in a recession in the ’70s – although it still applies now – being unemployed and friendless; things that are shockingly resonant now,” Greenberg said.
Greenberg says he is thrilled the new version of ‘Working’ will have its world premiere in Terkel’s hometown of Chicago.
“It couldn’t be a more appropriate place. Just being here has illuminated the entire show, and spending all the time that I did at the Chicago history museum going through Studs’ original transcripts,” Greenberg said. “I have to say it was very emotional.”
“Working” is onstage at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, formerly known as the Drury Lane Water Tower, through May 8.
Terkel passed away in 2008 at the age of 96. He was renowned around Chicago and the world as an oral historian, radio variety show host, and broadcasting pioneer.