‘Working’ Musical Highlights Different Walks of Life

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  • Sophia Davis ’20 holds her hands over her heart as she sings.

  • Rebekah Farris ’19 goes inside after Asher Benjamin ’18 drops a package off.

  • Jewels Uherek ’18 picks up children’s toys.

  • Emma Green ’20 talks about working in an office.

  • Sebastien Hubiera ’18 speaks to a customer over the phone.

  • Sam Bolger ’18 sings about working in a burger shop as the class surrounds him.

  • Julia Kurtz ’18 and Grace Castelino ’20 drive a truck together.

  • The musical theatre class sings their last song.

  • Ysa Ybarra ’19 works as a millworker.

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Students in the Musical 2-4 class opened their first public production of the musical Working on Friday, Jan. 19 in the Big Black Box. Working does not follow a typical narrative. Instead, it chronicles a series of vignettes from the perspective of many employees in a variety of occupations. The script was a revamp done in 2012 to the original 1977 book made to update some of the featured careers to their modern counterparts.

The show was directed by Ms. Hannah Milam, who found that the show was vastly different from previous Westwood musicals in her time as a teacher.

“It has a very different structure than most musicals,” Ms. Milam said. “It doesn’t really have a storyline — it’s a lot of different vignettes. It has a lot more of a pop-y, jazzy feel to it. I think this show gives everyone a moment to shine more than any of the musicals we’ve done, at least in my experience at Westwood.”

The shift from traditional-narrative theater to a style as uncommon as that seen in Working posed a refreshing challenge to all students involved, even to those working behind the scenes. Megan Purcell ‘18, among others, made the fantastic and innumerable costume changes reality.

“This is a modern show, and a lot of stuff we’ve done in the past has been historical, so that was a nice change,” Purcell said. “We decided on a pretty neutral color scheme. Some of the characters with names got more pops of color to add in some variety as they went up to perform their solos.”

All aspects of tech — lighting, set, sound, and house management — were also handled by students who had to face the challenges that came with these responsibilities.

“It was really amazing to watch,” Aven Wright-Egbert ‘18 said. “There was a lot of House stuff to get done all at once, because I was only here for the last two weeks of rehearsal, so I had all the cutouts to make, and the props to organize for the photo booth, and the ticket system to learn, and the letters on top of the doors to write, but it was definitely a lot of fun to do. It was amazing to see everything come together, because I wasn’t there for the coming together part.”

Although the delightful opening night performance suggested otherwise, the cast detailed several roadblocks they had to overcome as a group to get the show on its feet.

“This has been a challenging show, it has a lot of crazy musical parts, a lot of crazy moving parts, but it’s been a really good process,” Ms. Milam said. “The kids have worked incredibly hard, especially with some adversities that we’ve come across. They’ve embraced the characters that they’ve been cast as, and they’ve become a really strong ensemble.”

One of the most difficult aspects of Working was how each actor had to play many different roles, taking on and taking off personas in a very short amount of time. For example, Minsoo Han ‘19 played four different characters ranging from a businessman, an interstate trucker, a stone mason, and an ex-newsroom assistant. Despite this, Han left the show feeling positive about his performance.

“There were some rocky moments,” Han said. “I think overall it went really well. The process was really fun, it was very supportive, and very nice.”

The subject matter of the show and the vast array of characters each actor had to portray allowed them to feel a connection to their parents.

“I think having me represent the [show’s] ethnic roles was good because we got to have that representation, especially for Westwood,” Sebastien Hubiera ‘18 said. “Both my parents are nurses, and they had to sacrifice themselves moving from the Philippines, and I know my mom sometime says nursing is hard. She said to me, ‘I know I haven’t fulfilled my life because I’ve done so much sacrificing’. I could relate to them in a way, and it helped me realize my character more.”

A positive aspect of the vignette-style show was its relevance to real life, despite having been originally written in the ‘70s.

“It has such an amazing and powerful message,” Trevor Wyatt ‘19 said. “I’m so glad that we finally get to share what we’ve been doing for three-and-a-half months. I just love this show with all my heart, it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever worked on. All these [characters] are based on real people and it’s just such an amazing show and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.”

Many of the cast members cited the strong ensemble they had developed over the course of their rehearsals as the reason they managed to overcome the hurdles that faced them throughout the process.

“It’s just been so amazing because we’re all such a family, and that’s totally cliche, but it’s true,” Julia Kurtz ‘18 said. “We work together so well every single day; we laugh, we joke, we play, and it’s just amazing, and I’m so proud of everyone.”

The positive community fostered by the cast allowed for students to step out of their traditional roles. Julianne Uherek ‘18 got to explore choreography in addition to her role as a performer. She described the cast as “loving, compassionate, and amazing.”

“I love the people,” Uherek said. “I love musical.”

The open and embracing ensemble allowed for students new to musical theater to explore singing in front of an audience without fear of judgement.

“It was a real confidence-booster,” Grace Castelino ‘20 said. “Before this, I was really nervous singing in front of other people and acting in front of other people, but now I’m more out of my shell.”

Not just those testing the water, but also students who have been involved in theater for their entire time at Westwood had praise to give the cast.

“The cast is so lovely, they come from a dang lovely place,” Hubiera said. “I think they come from an authentic place. These people, they’re real. They’re here to share a story.”

The opening night exceeded expectations forecast by the difficulties faced by the cast and tech crew, including the missed rehearsal canceled that same week due to icy weather.

“I think [opening night] went incredibly well,” Ms. Milam said. “Every opening night has its ‘oh, but only if that could have-’ moments, but the kids held strong and kept going and they didn’t let anything trip them up. Every rehearsal and every performance I am more and more impressed with how well they do.”

Despite the inevitable nerves that come with putting a show in front of a live audience for the first time, cast members looked on the experience with optimism.

“This is just another run,” Wyatt said. “All the things that went awry, we know to do differently next time. There’s also some great things that happen in front of the audience that never happen in rehearsal, and so when it happens onstage, you’re amazed by it and you love it so much. You know you need to try harder next time because you know you can do it better and bigger and brighter. It was an amazing experience.”

This show served as ample evidence to support the openness and strength of the Westwood theater community, and the cast is hopeful that it will encourage those considering taking a theater class but are nervous about doing so to join in.

“Musical theater’s a great opportunity for you to make friends and build a community with likeminded people, spirited people, but it’s also an opportunity for you to grow as a performer and as a person,” Ms. Milam said. “It’s not just being on stage and singing and dancing, it’s getting to know yourself and the world around you.”