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Unable to obtain digital-performance rights for “Xanadu,” DeLeo looked for musicals that could be produced digitally and chose a musical from the 1970s called “Working,” which the troupe will live-stream on four evenings from May 14 to 22.
“The play celebrates the American worker, with special grace given to those who toil in physical labor: a fireman, a stone mason, factory workers, a waitress, a McDonald’s delivery boy, the UPS man,” he said. “With the everyday worker keeping America humming during a historic pandemic, it felt like the play had special resonance at this point in time.”
The revue-style show features songs and monologues culled from the late Studs Terkel’s 1974 book of interviews with a wide range of American workers.
The book’s multiple-snippet structure lent itself well to Marshall High’s upcoming show, which will feature a series of performances by cast members acting in front of a green screen, with backdrops edited in, DeLeo said.
The musical will feature 14 songs and performances by 32 cast members, nearly all of whom receive equal time. One exception is sledge-hammer-wielding Mike the Ironworker, played by senior Josh Gurdak, who will be featured in three segments and is “the only really connective tissue as a character throughout the show,” DeLeo said.
Other standout performances by Marshall High seniors include Grace Kellermann as an enthusiastic waitress, Sylvie Vanstory as a burnt-out teacher, Adriano Moran as a retiree with no clear plans, Becker Spear as an immigrant caretaker who worries about his family back home; Catie Cryan as a millworker with higher aspirations, Soohwan Kim as a freedom-loving trucker and Teloriah Whitfield as a cleaning woman who is trying to provide a better future for her daughter.
Pandemic-related constraints were the show’s biggest obstacle, DeLeo said. Auditions occurred in January, online rehearsals began in early February and students were allowed to film their segments inside the school starting in March after public-health conditions improved.
“We scheduled and COVID-screened actors one by one, putting them in separate dressing rooms,” DeLeo said. “We had them 25 feet from the camera before they unmasked in front of the green screen, with a large-room air purifier in between them and the camera and our double-masked film crew. It has run like a Swiss watch and we had zero health issues throughout the two months of shooting.”
A small group of students whose parents did not allow them to come to the school were allowed to participage by filming from home and submitting their work.
Unlike live shows, which offer more rehearsal time and the chance for actors to hone their performances over a series of shows, the filmed version had little preparation time and required the performers to get up to speed quickly, DeLeo said.
“The payoff, though, has been watching the kids [coming] into school, stepping on that stage and feeling the excitement of performing again,” he said.
“Working” premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Terkel’s native Chicago in 1977 and had a short-lived Broadway run in 1978, featuring future stars Joe Mantegna and Patti LuPone. The show remained popular in high-school, college and regional theaters, and in 2012 had some of its more dated tunes replaced with new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame.
Marshall High’s troupe will perform “Working” on May 14, 15, 21 and 22, with all shows starting at 8 p.m. The group advises attendees to log in 10 minutes early, as at a live show.
The play is written for adults, with some mature material that may not be suitable for younger audience members.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students. Purchasers may stream for the entire family with just one ticket, but the troupe encourages people to pay for however many viewers are in the household.
For the ticket link and streaming platform, see the Website at www.statesmentheatre.org.