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Archive for September 6th, 2010

Labor Day Special Reissue Theory: Stephen Schwartz and James Taylor, “Working”

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Working (Original 1978 Broadway Cast)

The Second Disc Archives are open!  We’re reprising this look at a musical which united the talents of Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor, Mary Rodgers, Micki Grant and Craig Carnelia, while our story also features “appearances” along the way by Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Warnes and Rupert Holmes!  Welcome to our Reissue Theory special: Working!

On Monday, September 6, 2010, America celebrated its 128th Labor Day, all but the first 12 of them recognized as a federal holiday. Labor Day was designed as a holiday to celebrate the contributions, both social and economic, of labor and trade workers to the country’s livelihood and prosperity. One chronicle of the great working men and women of America was Studs Terkel’s 1974 book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. Terkel found surprising meaning in the lives of America at work, speaking to masons, valets, waitresses, truckers and housewives, just to name a few. One fan of the book was a young composer and lyricist named Stephen Schwartz. Having already struck commercial gold with his musicals Godspell , Pippin and The Magic Show (and with a little musical called Wicked some years in the future), Schwartz became intrigued with the idea of creating a theatrical adaptation of Terkel’s book, turning the spotlight of a major Broadway musical onto everyday citizens.

Schwartz’s conception was a non-traditional musical with a score created by a group as diverse as the true-life characters they would write about. Invitations were shortly sent out to an elite group of composers and lyricists admired by Schwartz: Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Micki Grant, Craig Carnelia, Mary Rodgers and Susan Birkenhead. (One might-have-been: after the fact, Schwartz got a call from Billy Joel volunteering his services. He told biographer Carol de Giere that “he would have been brilliant at this material but it was too late,” the musical having already been completed. “To this day,” Schwartz wrote in the liner notes to the 2001 CD reissue of the cast recording of Working, “I would love to hear what he would have written!”) Mitchell and Simon turned Schwartz down although both were interested (talk about another might-have-been!), but the others signed on.

Despite the herculean efforts of a talented cast (including Bob Gunton, Patti LuPone, Joe Mantegna and Lynne Thigpen) and creative team, Working was not a commercial success. After a tryout in Terkel’s stomping ground of Chicago, Working shuttered after a mere 12 performances and 24 previews (performances prior to the official opening night) on Broadway. Columbia Records, however, had the foresight to see that Schwartz’s musical receive a cast recording. The album was produced by Schwartz himself with Elliot Scheiner, now a six-time Grammy winner out of 23 nominations, and long a leading light in the DVD-Audio/surround sound community. So please hit the jump and meet some more famous names from the worlds of music and theatre in a special Labor Day Reissue Theory look at the original cast recording of Working! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 6, 2010 at 23:45