The Cradle Will Rock
|The Cradle Will Rock|
Poster from the Federal Theatre Project, Work Projects Administration production 1937
1947 Broadway revival
1964 Off-Broadway revival
1983 Off-Broadway revival
1985 West End
The Cradle Will Rock is a 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein. Originally a part of the Federal Theatre Project, it was directed by Orson Welles, and produced by John Houseman. The musical is a Brechtian allegory of corruption and corporate greed and includes a panoply of societal figures. Set in "Steeltown, USA", it follows the efforts of Larry Foreman to unionize the town's workers and combat wicked, greedy businessman Mr. Mister, who controls the town's factory, press, church and social organization. The piece is almost entirely sung-through, giving it many operatic qualities, although Blitzstein included popular song styles of the time.
The WPA temporarily shut down the project a few days before it was to open on Broadway, so to avoid government and union restrictions, the show was performed with Blitzstein playing piano onstage and the cast members singing their parts from the audience.
The original cast consisted of John Adair, Guido Alexander, Marc Blitzstein, Peggy Coudray, Howard Da Silva, George Fairchild, Robert Fransworth, Edward Fuller, Will Geer, Maynard Holmes, Frank Marvel, Charles Niemeyer, Le Roi Operti, Jules Schmidt, George Smithfield, Olive Stanton, and Bert Weston.
The Cradle Will Rock was reprised January–April 1938 as part of the first season of the Mercury Theatre, an independent repertory company founded by Welles and Houseman. An abridged version of the production was recorded and released in 1938, the first original cast recording ever made.
Setting: Steeltown, U.S.A.
Moll, a tired and hungry prostitute, is arrested and jailed for refusing her services to a police officer loyal to Mr. Mister, who owns the steel factory and everything else in town. Members of the Liberty Committee, a group of prominent citizens who oppose the union, are also arrested, because a policeman mistook them for union organizers. At night court, Moll meets Harry Druggist, who is continually arrested for vagrancy after having lost his drugstore because of Mr. Mister.
Harry tells Moll that the Liberty Committee are bigger prostitutes than she is; he explains how they, and even himself, have sold out to Mr. Mister. In a series of flashbacks, we see this happen: Reverend Salvation is convinced by Mrs. Mister to make sermons on World War I that are convenient to the profits of the steel industry, Editor Daily of the Steeltown News is bullied into running stories against union organizer Larry Foreman and giving Mr. Mister's feckless son Junior Mister a correspondence job in Honolulu. Harry Druggist is strong-armed by one of Mr. Mister's henchmen into keeping quiet about a bomb planted in a car belonging to Gus Polack, an innocent immigrant steelworker who has joined the union. Harry's son Stevie is killed trying to save Gus and his pregnant wife from the blast.
More flashbacks show other Liberty Committee members selling out to Mr. Mister. The painter Dauber and the violinist Yasha work for Mrs. Mister, using their art to support her husband's ideals.
In the present, Larry Foreman is beaten by the police and jailed for "inciting to riot". He explains the principle behind unions, and says that the time is coming when "the cradle will rock" and overthrow Mr. Mister and others like him.
In another flashback, Mr. Mister has President Prexy and other faculty at Steeltown University get students to serve in the army. Doctor Specialist, Mr. Mister's personal doctor as well as the one that treated a worker who died in a machine accident, is threatened with the loss of his chairmanship of the Liberty Committee if he does not report that the worker was drunk. Ella Hammer, the worker's sister, knows that he was pushed, and angrily confronts the doctor.
When Mr. Mister arrives at night court to release the Liberty Committee, he offers Foreman a place on the Committee and a hefty bribe if he will give up his union activities. Foreman refuses: though a common man, he stands up to the corrupt forces of Mr. Mister. Mr. Mister feels that his monopoly may be slipping away. He confronts Foreman, but the workers are rising up.
- "Moll's Song (I'm Checkin' Home Now)" – The Moll
- "Moll and Gent" – The Moll, A Gent
- "Moll and Dick" – The Moll, A Dick
- "Moll and Druggist" – The Moll, Druggist
- "Oh, What a Filthy Night Court!" – Editor Daily, Prexie, Yasha, Dauber, Doctor Specialist, Reverend Salvation
- "Mrs. Mister and Reverend Salvation" – Mrs. Mister, Reverend Salvation
- "Croon Spoon" – Junior Mister, Sister Mister
- "The Freedom of the Press" – Editor Daily, Mr. Mister
- "Let's Do Something" – Junior Mister, Sister Mister
- "Honolulu" – Editor Daily, Junior Mister, Mr. Mister, Sister Mister
- "Drugstore Scene" – Druggist, Steve, Bugs
- "Gus and Sadie Love Song" – Gus Polock and Sadie Polock
- "The Rich" – Yasha, Dauber
- "Ask Us Again" – Yasha, Dauber, Mrs. Mister
- "Art for Art's Sake" – Yasha, Dauber
- "Nickel Under the Foot" – The Moll
- "Leaflets" – Larry
- "The Cradle Will Rock" – Larry
- "Faculty Room Scene" – Mr. Mister, Prexie, Professor Trixie, Professor Scoot
- "Doctor and Ella" – Ella Hammer
- "Joe Worker" – Ella Hammer
- "Finale/The Cradle Will Rock (reprise)" – Larry, Ensemble
Principal singing roles
- Moll – mezzo-soprano
- Ella Hammer – mezzo-soprano
- Editor Daily – tenor
- Larry Foreman – baritone
- Mr. Mister – bass
- Mrs. Mister – mezz-soprano
- Rev. Salvation- bass/baritone
A slightly abridged version of Welles's 1937 Mercury Theatre production with narration by Blitzstein was recorded in April 1938 and released on the Musicraft label (number 18). It was the first original cast recording ever made. In December 1964 the recording was re-released in a limited-edition LP on the American Legacy Records label (T1001).:342:251
key to casts: Moll/Ella Hammer/Editor Daily/Larry Foreman/Mr. Mister
- 1938 – label: Musicraft – conductor: Blitzstein – cast: Stanton/Collins/Weston/da Silva/MacBane
- 1964 – label: MGM – conductor: Kingsley – cast: Peters-L/Grant/Dittmann/Orbach/Clarke
- 1985 – label: TER – conductor: Barrett – cast: LuPone/Woods-MD/Matthews-A/Mell/Schramm
- 1994 – label: Lockett-Palmer – conductor: Bates – cast: Dawn?/Green-MP?/Lund?/Baratta?/van Norden?
- 1999 – label: RCA Victor – conductor: Campbell – cast: Harvey/McDonald/unknown/unknown/unknown (soundtrack of Robbins movie; music is abridged)
The Cradle Will Rock was originally a WPA project, and it was to begin previews on Broadway on June 16, 1937 at the Maxine Elliott Theatre with elaborate sets and a full orchestra. The production was shut down four days before its opening by the WPA, which stated that due to budget cuts, the WPA was reorganizing its arts projects, and all openings of WPA plays, musicals, concerts, and art galleries were to be delayed until after July 1; however, many asserted that the musical had been censored because the pro-union plot was "too radical". The theatre was padlocked and surrounded by security to prevent anyone from stealing props or costumes, as these were considered U. S. Government property.
Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein, seeking a way to privately produce the show, rented the much larger Venice Theatre and a piano just in time for the scheduled preview on June 16, 1937. The 600 audience members, who had gathered outside the Maxine Elliot Theatre for the preview, travelled 21 blocks north to the Venice Theatre; many were on foot. The sold-out house grew even larger when the show's creators invited people off the street to attend for free. The musicians' union refused to play for the show unless Houseman could provide their full salaries, and Actors' Equity Association stated that its members could not perform onstage at the new theatre without approval of the original producer (the federal government). The show's creators thus planned for Blitzstein to perform the entire musical at the piano. Just after beginning the first number, Blitzstein was joined by Olive Stanton, the actress playing Moll, from the audience. During the rest of the performance, various actors joined in with Blitzstein and performed the entire musical from the house. According to The New York Times's description of the original production, "Persons who heard the opera's score and extracts last night carried no clear impression except that its theme was that steel workers should join a union." Poet Archibald MacLeish, who was in the audience, "praised the 'vitality' of the Federal Theatre Project."
Houseman determined that there were no legal restrictions on performing the musical with a new financial backer, and beginning on June 18, Helen Deutsch, press agent for the Theatre Guild, agreed to serve as the financial backer for The Cradle Will Rock; the actors received a two-week leave of absence from the WPA, and, in an agreement with Actors' Equity, Deutsch paid the 19 cast members $1500 for the two weeks' performances. Two days later, Houseman announced that, should the production prove successful, the two-week run would be continued indefinitely. Houseman also announced that the musical would continue to be performed with Blitzstein playing piano onstage and the cast members singing from the audience. He asserted that this made the audience feel like part of the show, stating, "There has always been the question of how to produce a labor show so the audience feels like it is a part of the performance. This technique seems to solve that problem and is exactly the right one for this particular piece". The success of the performance led Welles and Houseman to form the Mercury Theatre.
Broadway and Off-Broadway
Following the impromptu opening and a brief run at the Venice Theatre (later renamed the New Century Theatre) in July 1937, the production reopened January 3, 1938, at the Windsor Theatre as part of the first season of the Mercury Theatre company. It played a total of 108 performances, ending in April 1938.
The musical was revived on Broadway on December 26, 1947, at the Mansfield Theater (subsequently moving to The Broadway Theatre) with a cast that included Alfred Drake (Larry Foreman), Vivian Vance (Mrs. Mister), Jack Albertson (Yasha), and original cast member Will Geer (Mr. Mister). The production was directed by Howard Da Silva and played 34 performances.
The show was revived Off-Broadway in 1964 in a production starring Jerry Orbach (Larry Foreman), Nancy Andrews (Mrs. Mister), and Lauri Peters (Moll), directed by Howard Da Silva. Leonard Bernstein acted as music supervisor. The production ran at Theatre Four for 82 performances. This production won the Obie Award as Best Musical Production and Dean Dittman (who played Editor Daily) won the Obie for Distinguished Performance.
The Acting Company presented an Off-Broadway production at the American Place Theater from May 9, 1983 to May 29, 1983, directed by John Houseman and featuring a spoken introduction by Houseman, and starring Patti LuPone. This production was done "on a dark stage, decorated only with chairs and Dennis Parichy's poetic lighting. At dead center is the upright piano, whose expert player, Michael Barrett, delivers the Brechtian scene-setting announcements as Blitzstein once did." This production was premiered at The Acting Company's summer home at Chautauqua Institution. During the run a man jumped onto the stage at the end of the play and screamed "Mr. Mister is still among us and the only way to defeat him is to JOIN THE COMMUNIST PARTY!"
Splinter Group Theatre's Chicago production in 1994 was named one of the Ten Best plays of the year by the Chicago Tribune. Directed by Matt O'Brien, with musical direction by Jim Collins, the production style recreated the bare bones approach necessitated by the 1937 production's opening night, and later transferred from Splinter Group's space in Wicker Park to the larger Theatre Building in Chicago, running a total of three months in the two locations.
The show was revived again in 1985 featuring alumni members of The Acting Company, in London's West End. In this production Patti LuPone reprised her role as Moll and was honored with an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Mehmet Ergen directed a production in London for the Arcola Theatre's 10th Anniversary in 2010 starring Alicia Davies, Stuart Matthew Price, Morgan Deare, Chris Jenkins and Josie Benson. It was the last show at the Arcola Street location, before the company moved to its new space, opposite the Dalston Junction station.
An summer stock production was produced by the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival in 2012. Directed by Joey Rizzolo, one of the New York Neo-Futurists (who are known for their Brechtian approach to theater), the production opened to critical acclaim.
Cradle Will Rock (1999 film)
In 1999 writer/director Tim Robbins wrote a semi-fictional film recounting the original production of The Cradle Will Rock. The film, entitled Cradle Will Rock (without "The") blended the true history of Blitzstein's show with the creation (and subsequent destruction) of the original Diego Rivera mural Man at the Crossroads in the lobby of Rockefeller Center (the Rivera mural was actually destroyed in 1934). Several of the original actors from the 1937 production were included as characters in the film, notably Olive Stanton, John Adair, and Will Geer, while others were replaced by fictional characters. Leading man Howard Da Silva was replaced by the fictional "Aldo Silvano" (John Turturro). Although Will Geer played Mr. Mister in the 1937 production, for the movie he was recast in the smaller role of the Druggist and a fictional actor named "Frank Marvel" (Barnard Hughes) portrayed Mr. Mister.
The film's climax recreates scenes from the original, legendary performance of the show, performed by veteran Broadway performers Victoria Clark, Gregg Edelman, Audra McDonald, Daniel Jenkins, Erin Hill, and Chris McKinney.
Robbins wrote a book, Cradle Will Rock: The Movie and the Moment, as a companion to the movie; it discusses the original show, his adaptation, and the filming of the motion picture.
- "Steel Strike Opera Is Put Off By WPA". The New York Times. June 17, 1937, p. 1
- "'The Cradle Will Rock' listing" guidetomusicaltheatre.com, accessed March 8, 2011
- "'The Cradle Will Rock', 1938" Internet Broadway database, accessed March 9, 2011
- Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9
- Lehrman, Leonard, Marc Blitzstein: A Bio-bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2005. ISBN 9780313300271
- Leiter, Robert. "A New Look At The 'Cradle' That Rocked Broadway", The New York Times, May 1, 1983, Section 2, p. 6
- Green, Stanley and Green, Kay."'The Cradle Will Rock' listing" Broadway Musicals, Show by Show (Ed.5), Hal Leonard Corporation, 1996, ISBN 0-7935-7750-0, p. 101
- "WPA Opera Put On Aa Private Show 'The Cradle Will Rock' Is Given Commercially at the Venice Theatre Here" The New York Times (abstract), June 19, 1937
- Block, Geoffrey.'The Cradle Will Rock' Enchanted Evenings, Oxford University Press US, 2004, ISBN 0-19-516730-9, p. 117
- "Steel Strike Opera Is Put Off By WPA" The New York Times (abstract), June 17, 1937
- "'Cradle Will Rock' Will Continue Run". The New York Times. June 20, 1937, p.24
- The details of the first production were recounted by John Houseman in an introductory speech to a 1983 production by The Acting Company, recorded by Jay Records, and are also included in Houseman's memoirs.
- Atkinson, Brooks."Blitzstein's 'Cradle Will Rock,' Vivid Proletarian Drama, Revived at Mansfield" The New York Times (abstract), December 27, 1947, p. 11
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- Funke, Lewis.Cradle Will Rock' Is at Theater Four" The New York Times (abstract), November 9, 1964, p.40
- "'The Cradle Will Rock' Listing, 1964" Internet Off-Broadway Database, accessed March 8, 2011
- "Obie Awards, 1964-1965" InfoPlease.com, accessed March 9, 2011
- Leiter, Robert."A New Look At The 'Cradle' That Rocked Broadway", The New York Times (abstract), May 1, 1983
- "'The Cradle Will Rock' Listing" Internet Off-Broadway Database listing, accessed March 8, 2011
- Rich, Frank. "Theater: 'Labor Opera' By Blitzstein Is Revived", The New York Times, May 10, 1983, Section C, p. 11
- Taubman, Howard."Radical '30's Recalled In 'Cradle Will Rock'", The New York Times (abstract), February 21, 1960
- "Olivier Winners 1985", olivierawards.com, accessed March 8, 2011
- "Arcola Theatre Listing, The Cradle Will Rock'" Arcola Theatre.com, accessed March 8, 2011
- "Oberlin Summer Theater Festival Listing, The Cradle Will Rock'" oberlin.edu, accessed August 6, 2012
- "Scene Magazine review by Christine Howey", clevescene.com, accessed August 6, 2012
- Bordman, Gerald (2001). American Musical Theater: A Chronicle. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513074-X
- Robbins, Tim (1999). Cradle Will Rock: The Movie and the Moment. Newmarket Press. ISBN 978-1-55704-399-3
- The Cradle Will Rock: a detailed analysis by Scott Miller, newlinetheatre.com, with background to the 1937 musical and discussion of the 1999 movie
- The Cradle Will Rock at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Cradle Will Rock: Fan site and research hub