Disappointing is the best that can be said about Classic Stage Company's bare-bones revival of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 play in music THE CRADLE WILL ROCK. Originally produced to great controversy by the legendary John Houseman of Federal Theatre Project and directed by the legendary Orson Welles, THE CRADLE WILL ROCK is a parable of greed and corruption that champions the socialist, pro-Labor movement. The setting is Steeltown USA which is ruled with authoritarian hand by Mr. Mister. He's co-opted religious leaders, politicians and the press with his money and coalesced his power with an anti-union citizens group called the Liberty Committee. (Sound familiar?) Ordinary guy Larry Foreman ends up leading the poor, struggling steelworkers to unionize.
Director John Doyle, whose streamlined, inventive staging has illuminated anew versions of COMPANY and SWEENEY TODD, seems adrift here. Blitzstein's score, often described as “Brechtian” by musical theatre historians, is played solely on a single, upright piano. The effect is monotonous. What's more, the pounding of the keys so obvious, it sounds like one is sitting-in on a rehearsal or workshop. Blitzstein's score, while mostly operatic, includes popular song idioms, but the arrangements are so thin, there’s only a vague trace of them here.
The accomplished Broadway song -and-dance man Tony Yazbek is miserably miscast as Larry Foreman. (He, like nearly all ten members of the cast, plays two characters.) He spends most of the time on the stage fringe, has two solos that are not vocally suited to him and never dances (because there’s no choreography in this production). Veteran actor David Garrison fares better as Mr. Mister because it’s the only part he plays, plus cardboard-character evil oppressor is just more interesting than the dimensionless subservient or oppressed who populate the rest of this flat production. Most disconcertingly, Doyle plays Blitzsteins’ satire as farce, but it's not funny.
All the players are costumed in grungy denim overalls: think unisex hybrid of Depression hobo and Rosie the Riveter. (Luckily I read a synopsis of the play before because with no wardrobe changes it was difficult to figure out who had changed to what part.) The props are oil-drums that get carried about as platforms for different aspects of the performance. The most captivating feature of the production design is a telephone pole upstage with dozens of wires looped across the bare, framed wooden ceiling of the auditorium. My attention kept wandering up to that array in the rafters.
Mr. Doyle is on target for programming such an important musical play that has contemporary thematic relevance, but just about everything else about this CRADLE WILL ROCK is a misfire.
E WILL ROCK is a misfire.
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