Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Cradle Will Rock

A friend of mine, Brian Henry, is in a staged reading of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock at Theatre 80 St. Marks. There were two performances last week, and additional ones are Tues. the 28th and Wed. the 29th. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com
I have read about the iconic Broadway production (see graphic), which was part of the Federal Theatre Project. It never opened at the Maxine Elliott because it was shut down by the US government. Orson Welles, John Houseman and Marc Blitzstein rented another theatre, and let people attend at no cost. The actors were forbidden by Actors Equity to perform on stage, so they sang their roles from the house. Some of the actors were Howard Da Silva and Will Geer.
In the 1980s, I know that I saw the Acting Company's production of The Cradle Will Rock, but I honestly can't remember if I saw it in a theatre or on PBS as part of American Playhouse. I do remember Patti Lupone's performance as Moll, the prostitute.
In 1999, Tim Robbins directed a film called The Cradle Will Rock which is more about the controversy around the production than the musical itself. It was shot in New York with a wonderful group of theatre actors, including Bob Balaban, Victoria Clark, Greg Edelman, Barnard Hughes, Cherry Jones, Audra McDonald, Stephen Spinella, and Harris Yulin.
The musical (Opera? Operetta? It's hard to know what to call it) is rarely performed. It is something akin to one of Brecht's Lehrstueck (learning play), and it certainly makes use of Brecht's alienation effect. It is still very American in its setting and tone. And perhaps it is no accident that Blitzstein's greatest success was his translation of Brecht and Kurt Weill's Die Dreigroschen Oper. (Can you tell I just finished reading a book about Brecht?) But there are plays of Brecht's where in spite of the politics and the alienation effect and the spareness of the text that still move. the audience. Despite the fine performances I saw Thursday night (and Brian Henry was excellent as A Gent, Junior Mister and Gus Polock), Blitzstein doesn't have the same effect on me. But see it before it's gone.

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