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Working

Since its 1977 world premiere at the Goodman Theatre, this quirky, engaging concept musical has had a somewhat checkered career. Despite the involvement of some high-powered talent--including Stephen Schwartz, composer of Godspell--the show never really caught on with New York tastemakers when it transferred to the Big Apple. It wasn't glitzy enough to compete with the likes of A Chorus Line and Schwartz's own Pippin, nor did it have a compelling central story; it was hard to pinpoint its identity because of its musical eclecticism. But the piece has had a long life in regional theater, and with good reason. Based on Studs Terkel's incisive collection of interviews, this anthology of sung and spoken monologues focuses on a topic generally ignored in theater and film: our jobs and how their rewards and frustrations help define us. Featuring songs by a diverse group brought together by Schwartz and coauthor Nina Faso--including singer-songwriter James Taylor, jazz-gospel singer Micki Grant, and Once Upon a Mattress tunesmith Mary Rodgers as well as Schwartz himself--Working is a memorable montage whose characters range from a schoolteacher to a waitress, from a millworker to a mason, from a retired fireman to a woman who defensively declares herself "just a housewife." The show's fluid, presentational format should be well suited to the concert performance it's receiving next week as the opening attraction of this year's "Chicago Theatres on the Air" series, which features local actors and out-of-town guests in one-night renditions of unusual projects (the performances are taped for later radio broadcast). This revival is the work of Northlight Theatre; star Tyne Daly has pulled out (her replacement is yet to be announced), but Charles Durning is still on board, reprising the role of the fireman he played in the show's PBS production some years back). He'll be joined by such fine Chicago musical-theater actors as Felicia Fields, Diane Houghton, and Robert Mason. Cecilie D. Keenan directs, with Dan Stetzel providing musical leadership. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300. Thursday, April 23, 8 PM. $21-$28. --Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Charles Durning uncredited photo.

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