WHEATLAND – Wheatland High School students are currently working on “Working,” a very difficult musical that was written in 1978.
According to David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter, “Working: A Musical” is unique in its patchwork of monologues and songs that compel us to look at the person behind the job, but this 1978 documentary-theater experiment has always elicited more admiration than passion. Earnest, heartfelt and a tad sentimental, the show takes its cue from the subtitle of the oral history compiled by Studs Terkel on which it was based: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.”
According to Wheatland High School band director, Evan Bradley, “Working is a musical about being in the workforce in America. Told from many points of view, both in age and in occupation, the text source for this musical comes from a nonfiction book by radio broadcaster Studs Terkel where he interviews different people about ‘what they do all day.’”
The book was then adapted into a musical by Stephen Schwartz, the writer of the musical Wicked, and Nina Faso. He also wrote music and lyrics for Godspell in 1971. Just as the book is a collection of stories from a diverse representation of people, almost every song in the show is written by a different composer, including Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton and In the Heights) and James Taylor.
“My wife, Stephanie, and I had such a great time working on Little Shop of Horrors together last year,” said Bradley. “We really wanted to do another musical this year. However, with no auditorium to perform in and COVID variants threatening to quarantine any number of our cast at any time we had to find a unique show that could be performed with minimal set, costumes and space.
“This show fit perfectly. Unlike most musicals, this show does not have a plot line that follows one or two main characters, but rather, is a collection of snapshots into the lives of real Americans, including an iron worker, a teacher, a firefighter, a mason, a stay-at-home mom and a retiree.
“The "snapshot" concept allows us to work on the show without everyone being there, while still allowing for powerful moments with the full cast onstage. This has led to a lot of independence and creativity from the students.
“One night as we were working with the young men in the cast, the ladies went off to work on a song and came back with student run choreography that includes a slightly out of the ordinary prop that we can't wait to show audiences. The venue issue was a stressful one. We had been waiting to hear back from a couple of locations and within the same week we found out that all 3 wouldn't work.
“Out of the blue I remembered that in addition to the great music making that happens in the public schools in Platte County, we also have a private music studio, called The Harmony Project that operates in an old church with a small stage.
“Stephanie and I got in touch with Kaylah Driskell, the owner of The Harmony Project, we surveyed the site, and decided we liked it, and Kaylah said she would donate the use of the space between now and the end of the show. This isn't a typical high school musical theater experience.”
According to Bradley, there aren't many happy-go-lucky full group songs with cheerful choreography and bright costumes and adds, “not that there is anything wrong with that,”
“This show is incredibly human,” he said. These students have had to dig deep to develop the acting skills necessary to portray authentic emotions for experiences that they've never had. These kids have already given me goosebumps and brought tears to my eyes, and we still have two weeks to get ready.”
This is a show that most people have never heard of, but they'll be so glad they came. Performances are Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., and Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at The Harmony Project located at 101 14th St in Wheatland.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students, and ages 4 and under are free. Tickets can be bought online (the link is on the WHS website) or can be purchased at the door. Doors open 30 minutes before showtime.