In 1982, David Roth was a Staples High School junior. Al Pia — director of the already-legendary Staples Players theater troupe — offered his young actors the chance to direct a studio production. Roth suggested “Working.” He loved the musical that Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso had adapted from Studs Terkel’s book of the same name — an intimate look at the struggles and joys of Americans who sought meaning from the work they did.

Pia picked a senior’s show instead.

Thirty-five years later, Roth gets his shot. He and co-director Kerry Long are directing “Working” as Staples Players’ summer production. The curtain rises next week on the 2012 updated version, which includes lively pop tunes from Schwartz (“Wicked,” “Godspell,” “Pippin”), James Taylor, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others.

If you’ve ever seen a Staples Players show, you know it’s orders of magnitude beyond a “high school musical.” Ten years ago, Roth and Long added summer productions. From “Rent” and “Les Miserables” to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” they’ve provided audiences with compelling and entertaining theater.

At the same time, they provide dozens of teenage actors and tech crew members opportunities they don’t get during the jam-packed school year. Younger students enjoy their first taste of the Players legacy. Older ones mentor newcomers. And all of them have a chance to follow their passion — theater — without the stress of homework, the competition of other extracurricular activities, and the daily challenges that come with being a kid in Westport.

In other words, for the past month they’ve just worked on “Working.” It’s been a blast.

Sam Chachra graduated from Staples in 2016. In addition to acting, she played in various orchestras and music ensembles.

“I never really had time to sit down and catch my breath,” she says. Now a drama student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she has come back to join the cast.

“Players was a huge part of why I was so busy,” she notes. “But it provided a place where I could do what I loved while still being surrounded by friends. That was worth more than anything to me.”

Simone Barr is a rising senior. Three years ago, participation in the summer program helped her join the Players community before the demands of school kicked in.

Two years ago, rising junior Daisy Brackett performed in the summer musical “Godspell.”

“My audition was horrendous,” she recalls. However, the experience helped her grow.

“No one comes into Players really know what they’re doing,” she says. But ‘Godspell’ significantly helped me have somewhat of a clue.”

Avery Mendillo — a veteran of summer “Godspell” and “Cabaret” summer productions — has learned to feel much more relaxed during auditions, and onstage.

Those returning cast members are being mentored by Staples alums. June graduate Jacob Leaf — who starred in a variety of roles in his four-year career, most notably as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” — will be both an actor and acting coach with “Working,” before heading off to Northwestern.

He’s joined onstage and off by 2016 graduate Christian Melhuish, a musical theater major at Temple University.

“I came back this summer because I felt incomplete. I wasn’t able to be in Mr. Roth’s show last summer, and I wanted to end things right,” he says. He also wanted to be “someone that younger students could look up to and trust I making the process as enjoyable as possible.”

He adds, “Musical theatre is beautiful, in that it provides an escape to a completely different world where anything is possible. I hope to inspire others to see that.”

He certainly has. The talented young cast has worked hard at “Working.’ They’ve embraced the format: a “confessional” style similar to “A Chorus Line.” The show weaves together the stories of several dozen laborers, over the course of one workday. There is a newsboy, stockbroker, millworker, mason, stay-at-home mom and more.

All search for dignity and strength, though their contributions go largely unnoticed.

One of the show’s highlights is a gospel number, “Cleaning Woman,” sung by Brackett. Another is “Millwork,” a haunting lament (written by James Taylor, and covered by Bette Midler, Emmylou Harris and Bruce Springsteen. A third is “Delivery,” a rousing number sung by Nick Rossi about the excitement and freedom his character feels when his manager sends him on his first fast food delivery.

For 35 years, David Roth dreamed of working on “Working.” Now it’s time for Westporters to take a couple of hours off, and enjoy the show.

“Working” will be presented on July 20, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., with a 3 p.m. July 22 matinee, in the Staples High School auditorium. Tickets are available at Remaining available tickets will be sold at the door, 30 minutes before each performance.

Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog’s World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at His personal blog is