You think you’re in for a reenactment of a historical night of American theater, but then The Cradle Will Rock gets rolling and before long you’re plunged into a musical production from Iron Crow Theatre that is scarily germane and leaves you feeling rattled and exhilarated and thinking maybe you should have worn your pink pussy hat.
Back in 1937, audiences must have broken out in similar goosebumps when Marc Blitzstein’s Brechtian musical premiered under unusual circumstances. Its Broadway opening was shut down by the government and the theatre doors padlocked (the Feds feared revolt), so 600 audience members marched up to the Venice Theatre where they were greeted by the sight of Blitzstein seated alone onstage at the piano.
He commenced to belt out the score and was soon joined by the actress playing Moll, who performed her role from the audience, and soon the rest of the cast sang from their seats since Actors Equity refused to allow their members to perform onstage.
Iron Crow’s production, under the dynamic direction of Sean Elias, may not be as unprecedented as the 1937 premiere, but there are thrilling and moving moments to be had.
The piano is front and center as music director Mandee Ferrier Roberts—nattily attired in a black bowler hat and piano keys-patterned tie—proclaims “To Brecht!” and amid the neon glare of Chris Miller’s tiered set and Janine Vreatt’s stark lighting design, launches into the dark, discordant music that was bold in 1937 and its expressionistic, embittered style still holds its power today.
The first person you meet in corrupt Steeltown USA is Moll (a strikingly vulnerable Caitlin Weaver), a young woman so broke and underemployed she sells her body for a few shekels. Unable to pay off crooked cop Dick (the menacing Matthew Lindsay Payne) and resisting his entreaty for sex, she’s hauled into jail for soliciting.
In the pokey, she meets the town drunk, Harry Druggist (Johnathan Jacobs, strong as a grieving parent)—Blitzstein’s anti-capitalist rant is not subtle when it comes to names, or lyrics for that matter—who sings her his hard luck story, which involves trying to resist the strong-armed tactics of the city’s leader, Mr. Mister (Greg Grenier, playing white male privilege to the hilt), a Trumpian blow bag who tries to control or destroy everybody he meets.
Mr. Mister’s Liberty Committee, a cadre of sellouts, has found themselves arrested too, for public assembly, and as they cool their heels waiting for the man himself to set them free, they tell of how Mr. Mister cajoled, bribed and coerced them into working on his behalf to bust the dreaded unions.
The Cradle Will Rock
closes October 8, 2017
Details and tickets
Oh, the scourge of the unions, which strives to protect lowly workers and give them a decent wage and non-lethal working conditions. The nerve of those workers for not wanting to remain oppressed and expendable.
In this age of “fake news,” it is sad and alarming to see Mr. Mister gleefully controlling the press and attacking any media that dares to challenge his point of view—he wants news “made to order.”
His power madness even extends to his family, and you can’t help but think of those callow adult Trump sons, as Mr. Mister shunts his directionless heir (Mark Quackenbush, doing rich and clueless well) off to be a newspaper correspondent in Hawaii—no journalism experience, no problem.
His elegant wife Mrs. Mister (Allison Bradbury, handles Blitzstein’s jazz-operatic patter with Lotte Lenya panache) is his partner in crime, choosing the arts as her bailiwick as she merrily sells out an artist (the excellent Eduward Van Osterom) and a musician (a deliciously fey Patrick Gorirossi).
In what seems like an ode to odious people, there are two rays of hope—most importantly, Larry Foreman (Terrance Fleming, magisterial and swaggering), a union rabble-rouser arrested for “carrying concealed, deathly leaflets.” Again, you can’t help recalling Trump’s cruel response to protestors of every stripe.
Foreman is unbowed, however, and warns the times they are a-changing in a bones-rattling rendition of the title song “The Cradle Will Rock.” Another similarly shivery moment comes a bit earlier in the show, when the sister of a murdered worker (Felicia Akunwafor, thundering and confident with every tricky note) comes to defend her brother’s good name in the plaintive “Joe Worker.”
By the time the on-fire cast sings the last line of the show—“The cradle will ROCK!”—with fists upraised, you want to run to the streets and start a rebellion. Elias and the Iron Crow company do a fine job expressing the historical significance of the musical, but also freshly fan the flames of revolution for all Americans.
The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein . Director: Sean Elias . Featuring: Caitlin Weaver, Terrance Fleming, Matthew Lindsay Payne, Ian Andrews, Roxanne Daneman, Brandon Love, Justin Johnson, Barbara Madison Hauck, Chelsea Paradiso, Meghan Taylor, Patrick Gorirossi, Eduard Van Osterom, Johnathan Jacobs, Allison Bradbury, Mark Quackenbush, Monica Albizo, Greg Grenier, Matt Winer, Felicia Akunwafor.
Musical Director/Pianist: Mandee Ferrier Roberts. Assistant Director/Dramaturge: Robert Corona.Movement Consultant: Quae Simpson. Set Design: Chris Miller. Costume Design: Matthew Smith. Lighting Design: Janine Vreatt. Technical Director: Sam Martin. Stage Manager: Gretchen Hylton. Produced by Iron Crow Theatre . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.