Corruption and corporate greed are nothing new to the 21st Century. Composer-playwright Marc Blitzstein wrote about both in The Cradle Will Rock, his 1937 “play in music,” now being revived by the company that won the LA Weekly Award for Musical Of The Year for its first production of it back in 1994.
The current The Cradle Will Rock stars nineteen of the Southland’s most gifted theatrical talents, is directed by Daniel Henning (who also scored Ovation and Drama-Logue Best Director Award nominations the first time round), features musical direction by the incomparable David O, and has been designed by one of the finest design teams in town.
Nonetheless, despite the considerable talent on and offstage, The Cradle Will Rock proved not to be this reviewer’s cup of tea.
Blitzstein’s musical play has been described as a “Brechtian allegory,” a pair of words which set off an immediate alarm in this reviewer, being a fan of neither Brecht nor the allegorical. Add to that Blitzstein’s dour, (and to my ear) monotonous melodies, and notwithstanding the considerable gifts of a phenomenal cast and some bright moments scattered throughout the The Cradle Will Rock’s ninety-five minutes, I failed to be engaged in either its story, its characters, or its message.
Steeltown U.S.A. is the symbolic setting for Blitzstein’s anti-union diatribe against evil tycoon “Mr. Mister” and his so-called “Liberty Committee,” a ragtag Keystone Cops-like sextet made up of a Minister, a Newspaper Editor, a Doctor, a College President, a Professor and an Artist, all of whom have sold their souls for wealth and power. Other archetypal characters include a Prostitute, a Vagrant, a Union Organizer, Mr. Mister’s Wife, Son, and Daughter, a pair of Policemen, a couple of Immigrants, a trio of Professors, and an Oppressed Worker.
Director Henning clearly knows and loves the material he’s presenting, and his direction and musical staging get thumbs up for ingenuity and flair. As in every Blank production, the cast couldn’t be better. Tiffany C. Adams, Will Barker, Gigi Bermingham, Christopher Carroll, Rob Roy Cesar, Matthew Patrick Davis, Mikey Hawley, Jim Holdridge, Jack Laufer, Roland Rusinek, Meagan Smith, Rex Smith, Lowe Taylor, David Trice, Peter Van Norden, Matt Wolpe, Adam Wylie, and Penelope Yates all give 110% to the project. There is terrific singing, committed acting, and some inspired comedic work being done here.
Stepping in for musical director O as the Clerk/piano accompanist, assistant musical director Brian P. Kennedy did impeccable work at the performance reviewed. Kurt Boetcher’s set design, JC Gafford’s lighting, Naila Alladin Sanders’ costumes, and Michael O’Hara’s props are imaginative and period perfect.
Irma Alejandra Gomez is stage manager, Tamara Becker assistant stage manager, and Caitlin Eckstein and Tamara Williams assistant directors.
The Cradle Will Rock 2011 has already gotten an L.A. Times Critics’ Choice and a GO from the LA Weekly, and though I can’t add my recommendation to theirs, one thing is certain. Without having to pay small fortune for a ticket, nowhere else in the U.S. will you find an intimate theater stage filled with this caliber talent.
The Blank Theatre at The Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood.
February 17, 2011
Photos: Rick Baumgartner