Based on the book of the same name by Studs Terkel, it chronicles a day in the life of twenty-six average American workers. Characters include an ironworker, a waitress, a stone mason, a trucker, a housewife, a UPS delivery man, a teacher, and a retiree. All of their monologues, in which they describe their daily routines and discuss their hopes and aspirations, are true stories derived from interviews with actual workers. While there is neither a unified plot nor a narrative thread carrying the action forward, each scene makes a smooth transition into the next, with each character's speech related in content to what precedes and follows it.
The show was originally staged at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. After twelve previews the Broadway production, directed by Schwartz and choreographed by Onna White, opened on May 14, 1978 at the 46th Street Theatre, where it ran for 24 performances. The cast, most of whom played multiple roles, included Patti LuPone, Bob Gunton, Joe Mantegna, Lynne Thigpen, Steven Boockvor, Rex Everhart, Bobo Lewis, Lenora Nemetz, Brad Sullivan, and Matt Landers.
In 1982, Schwartz and Nina Faso adapted the show for a ninety-minute telecast on the PBS series American Playhouse, directed by himself and Kirk Browning and introduced by Terkel. The cast included Barry Bostwick, Barbara Barrie, Didi Conn, Scatman Crothers, Barbara Hershey, Beth Howland, Charles Haid, Eileen Brennan, Rita Moreno, Edie McClurg, Charles Durning, Patti LaBelle, Jennifer Warnes, James Taylor, and Lynne Thigpen. The program was nominated for three technical Emmy Awards and won for Outstanding Lighting Direction.
In 2008, Lin-Manuel Miranda was invited by Schwartz to contribute two new songs to a revised version that opened in May at the Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota, Florida. Another production of the revised version is scheduled for March 2009 at The Old Globe in San Diego.