Krista Pickens, Sallie Proffitt, Jessica Fryear, Jane Burke, & Emily Vergason. Photo: Little Colonel Playhouse

Working: The Musical

From the Book by Studs Terkel
Adapted by Nina Faso and Stephen Schwartz
With Additional Contributions by Gordon Greenberg
Songs by Craig Carnelia, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, Micki Grant, Stephen Schwartz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and James Taylor
Directed by Jennifer Starr

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents copyright © 2019 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

In 1974, noted oral historian and author Studs Terkel published a book derived from interviews with many regular people in all walks of life, discussing their various jobs and professions and what meaning, if any, they derived from them. Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do became a best seller, and was by all accounts a fascinating look at how work can be difficult, but still provide meaning for workers.

A few years later Broadway legend Stephen Schwartz, along with Nina Faso and several noted songwriters including Mary Rodgers and James Taylor, turned the book into a musical. After a two month run in Chicago at the end of 1977, it opened on Broadway in 1978 where it was not a success (it ran 24 performances), but it was well liked and received many revisions and revivals over the years. Most notably, Hamilton author Lin-Manuel Miranda added new songs in 2012.

Local audiences are now getting a taste of it in a new production currently playing at the Little Colonel Playhouse in Pewee Valley. Director Jennifer Starr has created a lively and emotionally charged show, making clever use of the venue; it’s sometimes an incredible feat, considering she manages to fit nine actors playing multiple roles on the small stage, which they also must share with a live band and several bits of scenery. The fact that it never once seems crowded or forced speaks volumes.

The show is similar in concept to A Chorus Line, in that the characters each share the insights of their various existences in monologue and song. These include occupations as varied as delivery boys, firefighters, teachers, and call center reps. Each member of this ensemble gets their moment to shine, even if you do hear a sour note once or twice.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite moment in the show because the tone varies so much from story to story and song to song. There’s a lot of humor to be had (and it was charming to see members in the band smiling and laughing along, right with us audience members) but there are moments of genuine pathos, too. Taylor Clemons’ hilarious ode to the life of a delivery boy, for example, is as funny and charming as Greg Collier’s emotional monologue about firefighting is heartrending. Jeff Mangum’s tale of an elder care worker really tugs the heartstrings, and Gary Tipton’s turn as a lonely and bored retiree is both cute and sad. And Emily Vergason’s millworker is a highlight that sets up one of the best musical numbers in the piece. I could go on and on.

I will mention that this is a bit of a change of pace to what Little Colonel usually offers its regular audience, and I did hear some comments from audience members who were clearly expecting something with more of a linear story. But, if you are a fan of Terkel’s book, or any of the impressive creative team, or heck, even a fan of someone in the cast or crew, the show really is worth the drive out to Pewee Valley to check it out!

Featuring Jane Burke, Taylor Clemons, Greg Collier, Jomaris DeJesus, Jessica Fryrear, Jeff Mangum, Krista Pickens, Sallie Proffitt, Gary Tipton, and Emily Vergason.

Working: The Musical

May 31, June 1, 6, 7 & 8 @ 7:30pm
June 2 & 9 @ 2:00pm

Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mount Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, Kentucky 40056


Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he will be launching a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo