Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance plans to head back outdoors with two productions at the theater company’s new Sixth Street location. Keeping casts small and employing safety measures, the shows will be similar to the other outdoor ventures the company has presented since last June.
With the musicals “Working” (opens March 4) and “Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Musical” (opens April 29), Theatre Alliance plans to entertain whatever size audience is allowed by state regulations at the time.
“Working,” the musical, began with Studs Terkel’s 1974 nonfiction book, an oral history derived from over 100 interviews with a wide range of working people.
In 1978, a stage musical version appeared on Broadway, featuring 17 actors. A new, 2021 version narrows the cast to six, though they play 26 people “from all walks of life,” according to publisher Music Theatre International. The show’s music composers include Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“The strength of the show,” Music Theatre International continues, “is in the core truths that transcend specific professions. The key is how people’s relationships to their work ultimately reveal key aspects of their humanity.”
Theatre Alliance Artistic Director Jamie Lawson found the diversity of jobs represented in the musical particularly appropriate to the current times.
“I chose ‘Working’ partially for its cast size, but also for its relevance to this year,” he said. “The term ‘essential worker’ has been a mainstay of pandemic lingo. Of course, healthcare employees and emergency assistance persons and grocery clerks are all of utmost importance, but isn’t everyone’s role?
“That’s what made me want to explore ‘Working,’” Lawson said. “The dialogue is not censored, is very candid, and is extremely thought-provoking, quoting everyone from firemen to millworkers and office assistants to truck drivers.”
The theater chose the created term “EssentiALL” for its show promotion.
The cast of “Working” includes James Crowe, Heather Levinson, Ashley Pearson, Stephen Robinson and Ruthie Tutterow.
Robinson spoke about the characters he plays and his favorite moments.
“As the title suggests, not surprisingly, the show is about working people and how their jobs affect their lives,” Robinson said.
“The stories are not clearly about heroes or villains, just people facing life’s challenges and opportunities. For some, like the mason, their job is uplifting and gives them purpose. For others, like the millworker, the job is a crushing life sentence. In between, there are those like the UPS delivery man who has to play pranks and kick the occasional dog to fight the boredom.”
Robinson plays a money manager who is the quintessential and stereotypical capitalist, a truck driver whose job is like an amphetamine to him but is costing him his family, a guy in a cubicle, a fireman who finds both purpose and sadness in his work, and the bored UPS employee.
“I find many of the songs to be compelling when they are paired with the various characters’ story,” Robinson said. “I’m a big fan of James Taylor, so I was excited to get ‘Brother Trucker’ as a solo. ‘The Millworker,’ in particular, is heartbreaking, and ‘Fathers and Sons’ is another that I really like.”
He added that several of the full cast songs, such as the opener, “All the Livelong Day,” are “powerful, and I think this cast is more than up to the challenge of delivering them.”
‘Ring of Fire’
For Theatre Alliance’s late April/early May “Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Show,” Lawson conceived the notion of reassembling most of the cast of the twice-produced “The Million-Dollar Quartet” musical.
“We thought if might be fun to put that cast back together for a third time,” Lawson said, “but this time, with some different material.”
That cast consists of Allan Beck, Amber Engel, Steve Robinson, Gray Smith and Taylor Vaden.
Created by Richard Maltby Jr. and conceived by William Meade, “Ring of Fire” played on Broadway in 2006 and has continued to be seen since across the country. Its tour through the Johnny Cash songbook reflects on Cash’s life story as well as reflections of relationships in general.
“I chose this show because I love Johnny Cash music,” Lawson said. “Who doesn’t? I think audiences are in for a real treat.”