Dallas Theater Center presents WORKING: A MUSICAL – Review by Gadi Elkon

Dallas Theater Center returns to live productions with WORKING: A MUSICAL.  The first production in front of live audiences since March of 2020 is both a homage to hardworking essential workers and a re-invitation to the talent-rich team that makes up DTC.  Here is my full review of the production held at Strauss Square through July 18th.

Based on Studs Terkel’s bestselling book, this unique musical features the real-life words of everyday working Americans. Through original songs by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, In the Heights), James Taylor and others, Working lifts up the voices of teachers, waiters, truck drivers and other essential workers who often go unnoticed but whose work uplifts our lives day in and day out. 

The excitement in live theater being back in DFW is the real highlight of DTC’s first production in 16 months.  Working: A Musical itself is a bit broad in it’s scope but sincere in it is collective homage.  The Diane and Hal Brierley Resident Acting Company is in full force with Blake Hackler, Liz Mikel, Alex Organ, Sally Nystuen Vahle, Christopher Llewyn Ramirez, Molly Searcy, and Tiffany Solano each tackling multiple roles…professions.  The real stand out is DTC’s trust in Director Tiana Kaye Blair.  The actress/director makes her DTC debut, but her stamp on the DFW theatrical landscape seems set for a rich future.  She has impressed in her jump into directing and the importance of being tasked with bringing back live theater is a massive moment for the powerhouse that is Tiana.  I had the treat of chatting with Tiana back in 2020 when she was making her directorial debut over at Second Thought Theatre.  Here is that interview.  The dive into directing is one of the main reasons why this production is worthy your attention.  The trust she’s garnered and her ability to take works like this and Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale highlight the director’s range.

The musical adaptation of Stud Terkel’s bestselling book packs enough of a the right punch to enlighten and entertain.  Certain professions do translate better to the pomp and stance of the musical format.  I was especially affected by Molly Searcy’s standout as waitress in an Italian restaurant.  The actress even had a refreshing improv moment in which she highlighted Italy’s Euro Soccer final victory over England mere hours before Sunday evening’s performance.  Each actor/actress seems to shine brighter with one of their many roles or professions tackled in the production.  Liz Mikel continues to be one of the Dallas most beloved and important powerhouse figures as she always seems to shine.  Her and Tiffany Solano showcasing the world of cleaning woman is a one of the musical’s more entertaining numbers.  If there is a gripe about the production it is in sometimes condescending takes on certain professions.  Granted these professions already have that negative viewpoint so the musical’s voice seems correct but still takes away from the homage.  The positive take on mill workers, with a solid song led by Sally Nystuen Vahle, and the production’s opening look at cubicle life are tremendous reflections of the tough reality of those workers.

The main treat of the production and added visual of real-life essential workers videos act as perfect transitions and emotional resonators.  The way in which we get to know these hardworking folks through their short snippets adds the reality Studs originally was tapping into.  As the musical unfolds we continue to check in and learn more and more about these fine folks.  Who they are is as unimportant as what they represent.  Just as our talented actors/actresses don’t have named roles but professions the broad scope of the homage is in full effect.

DTC’s return to live production will be the main lesson gained from this production but hopefully you’ll connect with one of the professions uplifting stories of hard work.  Reflection on your own life’s journey is a must for this type of immersive production and that is a great way to connect us back to our love of the theater.

WORKING: A MUSICAL runs through July 18th at Strauss Square.

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