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Posted January 15, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Shenandoah to stage Pulitzer Prize winner's legacy
By Ben Orcutt -- Daily Staff Writer
WINCHESTER -- The cast and crew of the Shenandoah Musical Theatre Ensemble are anxious for the curtain to go up on "Working."
"It's based on the book 'Working,' by Studs Turkel," says Jonathan Flom, assistant professor of musical theater at Shenandoah University and the director of "Working."
The Pulitzer-Prize-winning author died in October, but his legacy, including "Working," which debuted on Broadway in 1978, lives on.
"They took all his taped interviews and turned it into sort of a musical revue," Flom says. "The music is by several composers, including James Taylor, Stephen Schwartz, Craig Carnelia and Mary Rodgers, who's the daughter of Richard Rodgers. So it's kind of a collaborative effort, which is really neat."
"Working" will be performed at Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre on SU's campus Jan. 23-25 by music theater majors at the school who will be graded on their performances. The production will then be taken on the road to three area high schools.
"It's timely, No. 1, because Studs Turkel just passed away not long ago, so we feel a sort of extra special connection with that," Flom says. "I just like it because it's very different from the kind of stuff we usually do here. It's pop music and folk music and a lot of people, if they're big fans of James Taylor, are gonna recognize some of the songs because he performs these songs in concert and so there's the familiarity. He wrote like three or four of the songs and he wrote them for the musical."
"I think it's great fun," Flom adds. "It's two acts and each act is comprised of maybe 10 to 12 of little vignettes or scenes of different professions. It's just like Studs Turkel's interview book. Each one is an interview with a different worker."
Tom Albert, also an assistant professor of musical theater at SU, is the musical director for "Working."
"I think it's an interesting piece because it's based on Studs Turkel's book and if you read the book and come and see the show, you'll find that there's whole sections that are just lifted right out of the book, which is kind of neat," Albert says. "It was updated about 10 years ago. For people who have seen it before, and there will be some, it's a little bit different.
"There's a schoolteacher and there's an iron worker and there's a grocery store checker and there's a hooker, a truck driver, and so it's really very, very interesting. For the most part, it's about people who are never center stage. It's about them. They're fascinating stories."
Beth Tarnow, a 21-year-old senior from East Brunswick, N.J., choreographed the show. She also plays Babe Secoli in the production, a 40-something supermarket checker.
"She loves her job and she finds no negativity in it and she loves going to work every day," Tarnow says of her character. "It's the only thing she ever wanted to do with her whole life."
Jessie Hooker, 20, a junior from Wilkesboro, Pa., plays a telephone operator in "Working."
"I like her attitude," Hooker says of her character. "You know, she really just wants people to listen to her, that she's not just an everyday telephone operator that doesn't want to hear what you have to say. She wishes she could talk but she can't really because her job won't let her."
Hooker says the chemistry among the cast is good.
"It's a really nice group of people," Hooker says. "It's a great group. One thing everyone really likes is the material. ... The music is so much fun. It's like a wide range of music."
Kevin Selwyn, a 20-year-old junior from Frederick, Md., plays an iron worker.
"He has a song towards the end called, 'Fathers and Sons,'" Selwyn says. "It's just about his relationship with his son, his relationship with his father, and just how that's affected him."
Senior Joel Piper, 21, from Loudoun County, likes the James Taylor song "Brother Trucker," which his truck driver character sings.
"It's very interesting and fun because it's about the life of someone who has to literally spend 20 hours out of a 24-hour day in their truck driving back and forth and it has a steady beat that goes along with it that kind of is a repetitive sound almost," Piper says. "It's like, 'Oh, this is what I have to keep doing, over and over again.'"
Piper also plays an office manager and a firefighter in the show
"I think my favorite is probably the fireman," Piper says. "He's the most pleased and happy with his life. ... He actually feels like he's done something to improve the world and life as he sees it."
Chelsea Diggs-Smith, a 21-year-old senior from Baltimore, plays perhaps the most risqué character in "Working" as Roberta, a hooker who wears 5-inch leopard-print high heels.
"I have very opposite qualities of my character. Very much so," says Diggs-Smith, a devout Christian. "I look at every character as a person, as a person in society and everyone in our world makes up our world. There are people like my character Roberta, and in order to have a realistic production, Roberta's role needs to be played by someone. I don't mind putting on a character and doing the work, the homework, the background, and finding in some ways that I am similar to this character and in some ways that I am very, very opposite or different. It was a fun exercise for me."
Senior Sarah Armstrong, 21, from Roanoke, also is a performance major at SU, but is the stage manager for "Working."
"I think it's been interesting because I've never stage managed before," Armstrong says. "It's nice to come at it from an actor's perspective because it gives you more respect for how much work goes into it that actors don't normally ever see. ... There are five students involved that are not in the production, but they're all performance majors as well."
When the curtain goes up on "Working," Armstrong will be wearing a headset and giving cues.
"I'm excited just to watch everybody do a great job and everybody's going to be great," Armstrong adds.
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