Tucson's vigorous population of theaters waxes and wains. Sometimes we actually lose what has seemed a stalwart organization with a good track record. And sometimes groups work together or even merge their efforts.
St. Francis Theatre has been in the shadows for a few years. It actually is an entity operating under the umbrella of the St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, which has long supported arts endeavors, both performing and visual. There is a Creative Arts Committee to foster various artistic projects, and their commitment to the arts springs from a belief “that art, music and drama are a vital part of our engagement with the divine.” The work they foster is not evangelical in nature; its participants are not restricted to church members; and it is far from the amateur effort that one might expect of such a group.
At least this is the impression I had when I witnessed its current production of “Working, The Musical.” It was a well put together piece of entertainment, showcasing some very strong and skilled singers. There is a variety of skill levels in the acting department, but the entire ensemble (of 13) did a more than respectable job, with plenty of skill and heart.
The director of “Working” is Robert Encila, who is leaving in May to return to Manila in the Philippines, his home country. Encila was the artistic director of a group called Studio Connections, which performed at St. Francis, but was a separate entity. Encila is an actor, director and teacher who will continue his work in Manila. In fact, he will be instrumental in forming and developing Studio Connections International. The organization will have a number of components, including developing new talent, marketing for a number of theaters in Manila, and, of course, producing plays.
“I really wanted to go home,” said Encila, who moved to this country in 1980, “to re-connect with family, chiefly. And then this amazing opportunity opened up to develop this unique organization there with a friend I've know for a long time. It just seemed that things were right. We have actually made a great connection with the School of Design and Arts at De La Salle College of St. Benild. One of the greatest aspects is that we will have access to a new 500 seat theater. And beginning in the fall, I will be teaching at the school.”
St. Francis Theatre and Studio Connections has had a symbiotic relationship, says Dave Goguen, the chairman of arts committee. They have shared resources and talent, but now that Encila is leaving, St. Francis will resume the name of the producing organization. The group has already produced two other shows this season. The next production will be “Pieces,” an original play by Michael Wilkinson.
“Working—The Musical” is based on the celebrated book by Studs Terkel, a prolific writer whose career was launched by his affiliation with the WPA's Federal Writer's Project. He was also an actor and hosted a radio show in Chicago for 45 years. For the book,“Working,” Terkel interviewed dozens of ordinary people and let them tell their stories, as the subtitle explains: “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” The book was a bestseller in the 1970's, and it was transformed into a musical theater piece which had a brief Broadway life.
The musical was first produced by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in 1977, adapted from Terkel's book by Stephen Schwartz (who is also responsible for “Godspell” and “Wicked”) and Nina Faso. Music and lyrics are by Schwartz, with many other contributors since it has evolved over the years to reflect the ever-changing nature of society's work and working environments.
Encila chose the show because of its timeliness, he says in his director's notes in the program. It's a “stark reminder of our current economic erosion as a by-product of a broken political system. . .I've always argued for the middle class deserving of attention in American policy.”
This production by St. Francis Theatre is a solid and energetic effort by a talented group. Their enthusiasm admirably honors the hard work—and the often frustrating, sometimes rewarding work life—of all who take care of business, whatever it may be.
“Working, The Musical” presented by St. Francis Theatre
7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 7 and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 1
4625 E. River Road
Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes with intermission