Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Cradle will Rock - Book, Music & Lyrics by Marc Blitzstein

by Joe Straw

There is a voice.  It will come from the east.  It will bring harmony and strength to the middle class, lifting them from the bottomless pit that is unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy. This voice will give rise to the spirits of the downtrodden, to have them look at themselves once again with pride, and it will give them the dream to continue.

Wait, and listen for the footsteps, the rattle of the keys, and hear the march to the podium as the voice makes its way to the microphone.  Make no mistake and listen, the voice will come.

The voice will come.

The Cradle Will Rock, book, music, and lyrics by Marc Blizstein presented by the Blank Theatre Company and directed by Daniel Henning is playing at the beautiful Stellar Adler Theatre in Hollywood just east of Hollywood and Highland.

Daniel Henning, the director, is a master storyteller, a modern day PT Barnum, a joker and jester, giving the audience magnificent physical life to his characters in music and story. This is a very imaginative musical, full of life and it’s misgivings.  This is also a marvelous production but one that is not without its imperfections.  

In this musical, there is another voice the characters long to hear and that is the voice of righteousness and fair play.  But sometimes, from this book by Marc Blizstein, it is hard to get to that point, via the through line, but it is there, somewhere.

The musical opens up with Moll (Tiffany C. Adams) a woman who has hit a low point in her life and is out in the street hustling when she comes upon a Gent (Matt Wolpe) who requests her services but for only for the paltry sum of 30 cents (Still, a ridiculously low price for 1937.).  An argument ensues and the police, Dick (Mikey Hawley) arrests her for prostitution and escorts (no pun intended) her to night court.   Her job, on this night in night court, is to observe that she is not the only “prostitute” in the house.

Later another cop (Will Barker) brings in The Liberty Committee.  The cause: (an 808) disturbing the peace at the union rally. He has arrested Dr. Specialist (Rob Roy Cesar), Reverend Salvation (Christopher Carroll), Editor Daily (David Trice), Yasha  (Jim Holdridge), Dauber (Roland Rusinek), and President Prexy (Matthew Patrick Davis).

The Liberty Committee is a misnomer since they have little liberty or independence.  They are a group financed by Mr. Mister (Peter Van Norden) to destroy unionism, communism, socialism, radicalism, and any other “ism” that isn’t to his liking. It is a fact, these people have been bought and they are in court and, maybe this is not by chance.

Mr. Mister, owner of a steel mill, uses his money, power, and influence over others while he observes the dirty wheels turning from his lofty towers.  And he wonders why, at the end of the day, he doesn’t feel good.

But it is the voice of Larry Foreman (Rex Smith) that needs to be silenced.  He is the man coming from the east and he can’t be bought.   He is the man that brings reason for having a union in order to make life livable for those who want to work hard and provide for their families.     

The idea of the musical explains the reasons for the how and why intelligent beings manipulate their lives to look down to the less fortunate from their comfortable perch all for the sake of the almighty dollar.   It also believes that, in the end, Mr. Mister, will come crashing down after the cradle have fallen.   

The musical takes us back into time to show the events leading to this movement. 

But first, all must bow to the King and Queen, Mr. and Mrs. Mister, their money, and their nasty little kids, Jr. Mister (Adam Wylie) and Sister Mister (Meagan Smith) who seem to like to one up each other.

The Editor Daily, wonderfully played by David Trice has a nice little number with Mr. Mister, Freedom of the Press, and is forced to bow down to Mr. Mister and get the goods on Larry Forman. Later he is forced to send Jr. Mister off to Honolulu Hawaii. However Daily seems ambivalent and never really (physically) sends the boy off to Hawaii.  One might recognize there was still a trace of job dignity in his being. 

Jr. Mister seems to be stuck in perpetual adolescence.  Old enough to go to Hawaii to write a column but not old enough to pull the toy out of the Cracker Jack box?  While the intention is to show the audience how the children of the affluent are spoiled and haven’t a care in the world it had the opposite effect of being just plain silly.  This portion of the show did not work on this night. 

And for the artists, Dauber, a painter (Roland Rusinek) and the musician, Yasha (Jim  Holdridge) both of whom vie for Mrs. Mister’s money.  (Eating is high priority on their list.) But they vie for her affection in ways that are not supported by their character. They have wonderful voices and nice costumes (loved the beret and the green cape with the pink lining) but still something was missing on this night.

Jack Laufer is simply wonderful as Harry the druggist.  His coat lining is frayed and spills from the sleeve of his jacket.  He is a man who is beaten by the death of his son, Stevie (Mike Hawley) and as of this point not finding much hope and unable to recover. 

Matt Wolpe and Penelope Yates are equally amazing as Gus and Sadie Polock wanting to have a child unaware of the power and the corruptible and silencing voice of Mr. Mister. The Gus & Sadie Love Long was a wonderful moment in this production.  It was simple and elegant, heartwarming, and touching. 

Behind every bad man there is an equally bad woman and Gigi Bermingham fills the bill as Mrs. Mister a woman who ignores her children and tries to squeeze the unpleasant professional juices of every human being within her grasp.  A nice role and wonderfully played by Bermingham.  Her entrance was remarkable as she blew past them and then held her gloved hands out to be kissed.  (Usually that is done with someone of the same stature, nevertheless…)

Davis as President Prexy was charming, tall, and looked like Jim Carrey in many ways and yes he was funny.  

Carroll as Rev Salvation was paid to preach a sermon to his congregation as part of the agenda of furthering the cause of war. It’s hard to believe a man of the cloth would stoop to despicable means.  With a twinkle in his eye and some bills in his pocket he is able to overcome that “God guilt thing” in his arsenal.   A saintly performance.

Cesar as Dr. Specialist showed he had a heart.  He probably didn’t like what he was doing to Ella Hammer (Lowe Taylor) but it was not his concern because she didn’t have any money.  There was an honor in his performance.  Nicely done.  

Barker (Professor Trixie) did a nice turn as a marine like professor complete with six-pack.

But Rex Smith as Larry Forman was the voice everyone was waiting to hear, full of inspiration and things that make people do the right thing.  His entrance, nicely done, brought forth a well dress man (not necessarily the cloth for a union spokesman).  The inspirational words need to find the mark and after this is done one will get the reason for his being.

David O, Musical Director, does yeoman’s work playing the piano and being the court clerk.  It was wonderful music and a wonderful job. 

One can see the parallels in today’s society.  It’s easy to find.  One need only look at Countrywide, Enron, Blackwater, Halliburton, AIG, and BP.  Will this madness never end?

The Cradle will Rock was first produced by Orson Wells and John Houseman as part of the WPA Federal Theatre Project in 1937 under very trying circumstances.  It was believed to be too leftist and shut down by the government.  It’s nice when you can be funded first and then shut down by your own government second. 

For tickets and reservations:
Go see this show.  

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