‘Working’ works for Chicago

Local reviewers give revised musical a thumbs-up

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.

With a trio of individual commercial producers attached to the just-opened production of tuner “Working” in Chicago, the revised version of the 1974 staple is looking like a possibility for New York.

Along with Broadway in Chicago, producers of the open-ended Windy City run include Jed Bernstein, also the producer of the current Main Stem revival of “Driving Miss Daisy,” as well as Dianne Fraser and Sheila Simon Geltzer.

The musical, based on Stud Turkel’s book of interviews with workers of every stripe, didn’t originally work on Broadway but has since gone on to become a regional staple. Pedigree includes tunes by Stephen Schwartz (“Wicked”), James Taylor, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead, with the revised version incorporating new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“In the Heights”).

The updated incarnation of the project bowed in a 2008 staging at the Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota, Fla. Many of the same creatives return for the Chicago version, for which Gordon Greenberg reprises his helming duties.

Windy City critics seem to have proved upbeat enough to catch the eye of Gotham legiters.

Here’s what the Chicago critics said:

• Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune gave the show 3 1/2 of four stars, calling it a “moving and fresh production” that “updates a 24-year-old Broadway show that remained in the production repertory ever since, but has seemed a little tired for the past decade.” He also gave a thumbs up to the “rich and accomplished ensemble,” although he wasn’t sure E. Faye Butler was quite right for one of the several roles the actress plays in the show. The new numbers from Miranda are “crucial to the project,” he noted, adding that overall the show “packs more of an emotional punch than you’d expect.”

• Hedy Weiss was similarly enthusiastic, calling the new staging of the musical “a winningly reminagined, enhanced and fully engaging new production.” Greenberg, she said, provides “fresh, clever, richly animated direction” and praises the “superb cast” as well as the sets by Beowulf Borritt. The new tunes from Miranda make “a seamless fit.” She capped the review with a reference to Miranda’s tune “A Very Good Day,” writing, “It’s a very good show, too.”

• Kris Vire of Time Out Chicago rated the show four of five stars, opining the “design is top-notch, even if Greenberg’s direction can be a bit stand-and-sing static and some schmaltzy bits survive.” Still, he wrote, the sappy bits are “far outnumbered by genuinely moving moments, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic ensemble. This ‘Working’ really works.”

• Variety’s Steven Oxman proved the least enthusiastic of the bunch, calling the show “entertaining but slightly forced.” “There are excellent moments in both music and monologue,” he acknowledged, and found the cast top-notch. But the production doesn’t shake the fact that “even in a mid-size theater, the show seems stretched.”