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'Working' up a sweat
Depot Players revive classic Broadway musical

Ten years ago, Anne Hargis appeared in the original Depot Players' production of the award-winning Broadway musical "Working" and she's been itching to stage it again ever since.

"I loved 'Working' and I knew I wanted to direct it," said Hargis, whose involvement in Rockdale County's theatre history stretches back nearly three decades. "But the stars and planets never aligned properly."

Until now.

Hargis, who has been directing local theatre productions since the mid-1980s, is shepherding a local revival - by the New Depot Players - of "Working," based on the 1974 book "Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do," written by noted historian and broadcaster Studs Terkel.

The New Depot Players' presentation of "Working" will have a nine-show run over three consecutive weekends, with the first show set for 8 p.m. on Friday, July 18. The musical, which will be staged at the Center Street Arts black box Theatre in Olde Town Conyers, closes on Saturday, Aug. 2.

"Working" is the initial production of the New Depot Players' 2008-09 performance season.

Hargis, whose previous directorial credits include "Guys and Dolls," "Steel Magnolias," "On Golden Pond," "Fiddler on the Roof," "South Pacific" and the "Boys Next Door," said there are many reasons she wanted to return to "Working."

"The material is based on interviews with real live people talking about their jobs and working," she said. "These are people who worked to provide for their families, who worked to provide better circumstances for their children and who worked in order to be able to provide a tangible legacy.

"It's amazing. No matter the circumstance, these are people filled with hope and a sense of a better tomorrow. The play really speaks to their resiliency. All of the monologues and songs are people's real words, so you can really connect with them. You'll recognize yourself or someone you know in this play."

"Working" describes a day in the life of more than two dozen characters and was adapted for the stage by Stephen Schwartz ("Godspell") and Nina Faso, with musical interludes provided by several noted composers, including James Taylor.

Hargis said another aspect of the play that was attractive is that it can be as simple or as involved as the director chooses. This production of "Working" features 17 cast members assuming about 40 roles.

"Everybody's playing more than one character, which is a challenge for the actors," she said, noting the age span of the cast ranges from a 10-year-old girl to actors in their 50s. "You can make the set as complex as you want, but I wanted it to be simple because I don't want the audience to be distracted. We've given it an urban look with lots of levels.

"It's truly an ensemble show and there are no traditional costume changes or people entering and exiting the stage. Costume changes are all made onstage and the props and costumes are part of the set. Everybody's dressed in black pants and white t-shirts that say 'Worker,' and they come onstage, clock in and take their places."

The great challenge for the actors, Hargis said, is "Portraying real people. You get to see what's really real about the characters portrayed. Most actors are accustomed to playing fictional characters, but this is the real deal. We also break down the fourth wall for 100 percent of the show and directly address the audience, as if it was Stud Terkel's tape recorder.

"There aren't a lot of ensemble shows done anymore, so it's been a challenge to get the cast to wrap their brains around never leaving the stage. Transitioning from scene to scene is also a challenge in terms of finding balance. This has been a very organic production - usually, when I create blocking, it's very involved and it's all written down, but in this show, I've let the cast be part of that process. It's an interesting approach."

The cast includes Joni Howard, a reliable standby from the Depot Players' original ensemble who appeared in "Steel Magnolias" and accompanist Chuck Bradley - who's been involved with both incarnations of the Depot Players - will lead a four-piece band.

There's also a family feel among the actors, as stage veteran Tom Harrison will appear in the play with his son Joseph, and Rick Bryant and his two daughters, 20-year-old Brittney and 10-year-old Blakley, are cast members.

"Tom and Joseph have done plays before but have never worked together and they'll appear in one scene as father and son," said Hargis. "And the Bryants have never performed together before. It's a neat twist."

The family connections continue as Hargis said her stepdaughter, Colleen Hargis-Gaenssley, not only appears in the play but has also designed the choreography.

"She's really taken some different approaches to this thing," said Hargis. "Colleen has choreographed some things that are reminiscent of 'Stomp.' It's kind of a combination of 'Stomp' and step (dancing)."

While Terkel's book and the original production (which made its debut in Chicago and opened on Broadway in 1978) are rather earthy in nature, Hargis said she's made alterations in the dialogue to make "Working" a family-friendly experience.

"We've seen a decrease in audience participation, much of which can be attributed to economics," she said. "I wanted to do this show because it has broad audience appeal, and people of all walks of life and age groups can enjoy it. I've cleaned up the raw language, so this show is appropriate for audiences of all ages."

And as a special added attraction for early birds, there's a 20 percent discount available for the first weekend's performances. When ordering tickets online or by phone, simply mention the code "1976" (the year the original Depot Players were born) for the discount.

For more information on the New Depot Players and "Working," visit www.thenewdepotplayers.com.

Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens, Ga. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If you go

What: "Working," a musical produced by the New Depot Players, in concert with the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts

When: 8 p.m. on Friday, July 18 and Saturday, July 19, and at 3 p.m. on Sunday, July 20. Other shows are scheduled for 8 p.m. on July 24 to 26 and July 31 to Aug. 2

Where: Center Street Arts black box theater, 910 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: Tickets are $20 and a 20 percent discount is available for the first weekend of show

Info: For ticket information, call the Conyers Rockdale Council for the Arts at 770-922-3143 or visit www.conyersarts.org.