"Working: A Musical" showcases the dignity and humanity of workers

Cast members from "Working: A Musical
Cast members from "Working: A Musical"
Image Credit: Valerie Wojciechowski

The Grand Valley Opera Theatre is gearing up to perform “Working: A Musical,” a show that tackles everyday societal pressures in a light-hearted, fun way.

“It’s a feel-good show, it’s an affirming show, it’s a show about human dignity,” Dale Schriemer, artistic director of the opera theater, said of the show that runs from Feb. 7-16. “In this world of chaos and negativity it is such a positive human experience.”

The show was based on a book of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning oral historian Studs Terkel. In 1977, the musical was performed for the first time in Chicago. A rework of the show was completed in 2012, including new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, famously known for his 2015 hit musical “Hamilton.”

The show was modernized to fit the climate of today’s working class in order to entertain a contemporary audience. The show elevates a working person's role in the world, Schriemer said.

“I think there is a great dignity and humanity in all of that, and to celebrate that at any time in history is a really good thing to do," Schriemer said. "The pride of work itself is celebrated, and I think that’s a very important aspect of what we share as a modern society rather than what divides us.”

“Working: A Musical” is an ensemble-lead show, meaning that there are no designated lead roles. This, Schriemer said, is important for creating the sense of community in the theater.

“The other thing that I think is so great and that I try to do with the shows as artistic director trying to pick shows, is find shows that aren’t star-driven,” he said. “This is more ensemble-based, so everybody in this cast has a shining moment, and everybody is sharing the stage as ensemble members.”

The songs in the musical aim to find the good in moments that may seem mundane, making everyone feel included.

“‘Today Was a Pretty Good Day’ is one of the numbers, and it’s about a health care worker working with this indigent guy, this old guy in a nursing home who has Alzheimer's, and someone who is a nanny,” Schriemer said. “And they’re both sharing the fact that today something good happened in those people’s lives. And you think, well, how often do we talk about this in the public sector?”

Schriemer wants show-goers to not only experience the affirmations this show brings, but also recognize the talent that comes from the Grand Valley Opera Theatre program.

“This is part of the life of Grand Valley,” he said. “And I’m proud of that, I want people to be proud of their school, like you would be of a football team. We don’t have a competition for musical theater so we don’t have that same social feeling, but our people go on to become performers in the real world, and it’s a beautiful thing and part of what makes Grand Valley a good place.”

The show will take place in the Louis Armstrong Theatre February 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and February 9 and 16 at 2:00 p.m.

More information can be found online here.

-- written by Olivia Conaty, student writer