Cradle Will Rock
known for the adventure surrounding its first performance than
for its own merits, Marc Blitzstein's 1937 'Labour Opera' proves in
this high-intensity revival to be melodic, powerful, moving and
entertaining in equally strong proportions.
original production was locked out of its theatre by government
landlords suspicious of its subversive content. The producers found a
new theatre just hours before performance time, paid for it with money
borrowed from the press corps there to report on the lock-out, and led
the audience to it, where the performers, forbidden by their union to
act onstage, did the show from various spots in the boxes, balcony and
orchestra pit. The show then went on to a long run of more conventional
performances. (The story may be familiar from the semi-documentary 1999
Tim Robbins film.)
its subject and point-of-view, Blitzstein's libretto contrasts the
plight of a poor streetwalker with the real whores of society, the
well-off representatives of church, press, academia and other pillars
who sell themselves to the capitalist Big Boss.
piece, it is by definition simplistic and black-and-white - poor people
are good, and rich (or even middle class) people are bad, and the
characters have semi-allegorical names like Moll, Gent, Editor Daily,
Dr. Specialist and the big villain Mr. Mister.
agitprop plays, The Cradle Will Rock is artistically sophisticated and
thoroughly entertaining, Blitzstein's mastery of a range of musical
styles making every scene fresh and enjoyable, even if you don't happen
to share his politics (which, by modern terms, are very mildly leftish,
extending not much further than being pro-union and sympathetic to the
ranges from the harsh Weill-Eisler sound we associate with Brecht
(Blitzstein knew Brecht and would later adapt The Threepenny Opera for
its most successful American production), as in the streetwalker's
opening song, through the pure Broadway mode of Mrs. Mister's 'Hard
Times' and the mock Tin Pan Alley clichés of 'Croon' to the angry blues
of 'Joe Worker,' all of them first-class examples of their respective
genres and all performed with power under musical director Bob Broad's
The only thing missing is the 28-strong chorus of the original, which you can imagine swelling out the biggest numbers, especially the climactic title song.
Ergen moves his performers around the thrust stage effectively, but his
major accomplishment is guiding them to respect the material, sing
clearly and audibly, and let the score's inherent power come through,
and there are particularly strong acting-singing performances by Alicia
Davies as the streetwalker, Adey Grummet as Mrs. Mister, Josie Benson
as a worker's widow and Chris Jenkins as the union organiser.
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- The Cradle Will Rock - Arcola 2010