CU Presents ‘Working,’ a musical tribute to the unsung heroes of the workforce


CU Boulder’s Department of Theatre & Dance is gearing up for its upcoming production of the rarely performed musical Working, based on the 1974 nonfiction book by Studs Terkel, which explores the lives and experiences of America’s working class. Professor Bud Coleman, who had previously only known the show through cast recordings, was compelled to direct Working because of its unconventional structure and documentary-style approach. 

“It is not a traditional book musical with a story, but it is also not a revue where the scenes do not connect at all; there is a thematic connection,” Coleman says.  “Working is also documentary theater [based on recorded conversations], which is unusual for a musical, but hearing real-life interviews set to music is really cool.”

The renovation of the University Theatre into the Roe Green Theatre had a profound impact on Coleman. Alumna Roe Green gave the theater program at CU Boulder a record-breaking $5 million in 2021 to upgrade the University Theatre’s acoustics and establish endowed funds for scholarships, maintenance, and to jumpstart students’ careers in the arts. During the building’s construction process, Coleman realized that, much like the characters in Working, there is an army of people behind the scenes who contribute to making a production come to life. 

“The last song in the piece is called ‘Something To Point To,’ and the various characters are singing from their point of view about the pride that they take in seeing their work, even if they only did a small part of it,” Coleman says. “The characters’ pride in knowing that this building exists because they helped make it is a nice parallel to the renovation. I have a list of all the people who worked on the renovation. And, though we aren’t sure whether it will be in the program or projected on stage, we’ll be celebrating the labor that made the Roe Green Theatre.”

Another unique aspect of CU’s production is its usage of the “localized” version of Working. Music Theatre International gives organizations the choice of performing the script used in the 2012 revival or providing directors with a special script and production guide that includes instructions on how to incorporate interviews with current employees in the location where production is taking place. 

“Once we found out that option existed, we canceled the original contract and applied for the new contract,” Coleman says. “I don’t have all the folks confirmed, but I know I’ll be speaking with a park ranger from Rocky Mountain National Park and a ski instructor in Winter Park. We’re trying to focus on occupations that are either Colorado- or Boulder-centric.”

Working is a musical that, according to Coleman, will speak to anyone who has ever had a job, good or bad. “This gives people the opportunity to see a different type of musical in a documentary style that I think people will find intriguing,” he says. “And, since we are doing the localized version, they will hear interviews that were done in the seventies and all the way up to the present.”

ON STAGE: Working, A Musical. Nov. 3-12, CU Boulder Theatre Department – University Theatre Building, 261 University of Colorado, Boulder. Tickets here.   

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