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Arts and Entertainment

MSU Theatre and Dance Presents Streaming Production of "Working--A Musical"

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(Poster design courtesy Missouri State University Theatre & Dance)
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Lisa Brescia, Assistant professor in the Theatre and Dance Department at Missouri State University, joined us on “Arts News” to talk about the video-recorded musical she has directed for the department, “Working—A Musical.” It will be available online now through Monday April 26 at 7:30pm each evening.       

The show is based on the 1974 Studs Terkel interview book “Working,” as adapted for the stage by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso.  One of the numerous Tony-nominated songwriting collaborators on the show was Brescia’s husband, singer/composer Craig Carnelia.  As Brescia and Carnelia live here in Springfield, she said her husband was “right on-site and he worked directly with our actors. So it was quite the perfect choice, I think, for our department.”

She believes the subtitle of the book, by famous oral historian and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel, describes it best: “People talk about what they do all day, and how they feel about what they do.”

“It's a very dense book,” said Brescia. “It has a preface and intro, and then nine sections. Each section is called a ‘book,’ focusing on different workers.” “And then it was adapted into a musical by Stephen (Schwartz) and Nina (Faso) using those interviews, and several different songwriters, including James Taylor and Mary Rodgers—daughter of Richard Rodgers—and my husband, Craig Carnelia.” The original show debuted late in 1977 “Then in 2012,” Brescia said, “it was adapted again, and new interviews were held so the text could be updated to include modern technology jobs, as well as two new songs by Lin Manuel Miranda, known for a little musical called ‘Hamilton.’ So it's been updated to be more relevant to today's world.”  Studs Terkel died in 2008. “And so I think Stephen Schwartz himself interviewed some people and did some writing based on those interviews.”

Because of the variety of people interviewed by Terkel, and later by Stephen Schwartz, there is a great variety of jobs represented, as well as a great variety of musical styles, owing at least in part to the numerous songwriters who collaborated on the show. “We range from folkie James Taylor to splashy musical theater style--Stephen Schwartz with ‘It's an Art.’ And we have a little bit of hip hop with Lin Manuel (Miranda),” said Brescia. “Much like ‘Hamilton,’ it’s very musical. And it's sort of a sweet ballad, which is Lin’s style as well, for the home health aide and the nanny. And the fast food worker gets the more kind of funky hip hop song early on. But the various songs obviously have the tone and the style of each songwriter.”

Lisa Brescia said her student cast performed the show several times, video-recorded with a three-camera set-up. From these they chose the best ‘takes’, “and that's what audiences will get to see,” said Brescia.

She noted that on the first day of rehearsal, she and the student cast sat and discussed jobs they have had, and what memorable moments occurred.  The discussion helped foster a “sense of lively conversation, deep feeling, hilarity, moving, touching stories. That was just sitting around the table with the cast, (and) that's very, very present in this musical.” She added that the student actors were “champs—I mean, totally professional, very safe in terms of COVID, and so excited to be making art during this time. It’s been so much of a struggle for so many. And they grew a ton. They learned a lot. I learned a lot. We all just felt ourselves grateful every day to be making art together in a room and to be working on a piece that is so well written.”

MSU Theatre and Dance will utilize the “Show Tix 4 U” website as the streaming platform for “Working—A Musical.” The online streams are scheduled for tonight (Friday April 23) through Monday April 26, all at 7:30pm, with two additional streams Saturday and Sunday the 24th and 25th at 2:30pm “for those who want to see it a little earlier in the day,” said Brescia. Prices range from $21.00 for an individual viewing to $54.00 for a family pass. “You know, of course, it's the honor system. The whole family could gather around that single ticket price,” Brescia noted… but she certainly wasn’t suggesting that patrons do that! “We're just excited that we're able to do theater in COVID, and we've created something really special and relevant today. Everyone works, or most people do.”

Streaming access tickets are available at https://theatreanddance.missouristate.edu; click on the “Productions” tab on the left side of the page.