The Working Boys Band: Dignity of labor

The "boys" of <i>The Working Boys Band.</i>

The "boys" of The Working Boys Band.

When Hiram Titus passed away last fall, he left behind high-quality music for shows as diverse as the Guthrie's A Christmas Carol to the musical Hormel Girls.

The Working Boys Band, playing through this month at the History Theatre, is a fitting tribute to his musical legacy. The show isn't perfect, but it is an often-absorbing look at life in the Twin Cities nearly a century ago.

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[jump] The story centers on the titular band, the creation of Professor C.C. Heintzemann in 1917. His idea is to organize the young men -- boys, really -- who toil in the factories and mills in Minneapolis.

There's a lot of the "rag tag organization comes together" trope going on here, but playwright Dominic Orlando moves things deeper by exploring the politics of the time. The United States had just entered World War I, and anti-German fervor was at its peak. This spells trouble for Heintzemann, and gives the show some real tension and heft.

Still, I wish there was less about the turmoil and battles of the upper classes and more about the lives of the boys in the band. We get moments of this, from the terrific opening number ("Just Make Sure You Get Home Alive") to the story of one of the boys who is seriously injured in an accident at the mill.

Instead, the plot digs deeper into budding love among several of the characters. While that does produce the show's best moment (the slow building act two number "Moonlight, Loring Park"), it also drags down the pace near the end of the show.

The lithe and loose-limbed Jon Andrew Hegge leads a talented cast as Heintzemann, and he is joined with nice turns by Jen Burleigh-Bentz as the appointed arbiter of what a "true" patriot is, Mrs. T.G. Winter, and Ricardo Vazquez as the draft-dodging Franky Montana.

As has happened before on numerous stages, Randy Schmeling steals the show. This time, he plays businessman A.W. Warnock. His prickly character is intriguing to watch, and he leads the working boys through an act-one highlight, "All Boys Are Working Boys."


The Working Boys Band
Through June 1
History Theatre

30 E. 10th St., St. Paul

For tickets and more information, call 651.292.4323 or visit online.