NY Theater Review By Marcina Zaccaria
At the New York Musical Theatre Festival, Crystal Theatre and Benjamin Simpson present “Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade.” The musical is about a real life figure, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who was a labor leader in the United States around the time of Teddy Roosevelt.
“Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade” was originally written on an author’s grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. As Mother Jones actually led a Children’s Crusade, she was an uncommon figure. The musical does a good job of setting the main character apart from other labor leaders. Human Rights and dignity are at the forefront of the musical, as is fair and equal treatment.
The themes of the musical are clear. As the workers are fighting for their rights, they struggle for not only safety, but also reasonable standards and a living wage. The musical takes place at a time when children were often asked to work in the factories. Town leaders welcome Mother Jones to their community after repeated labor disputes.
Lynne Wintersteller does a fine job portraying Mother Jones. Wintersteller was previously seen on Broadway in “A Grand Night for Singing” and “Annie.” In “Mother Jones,” Wintersteller is galvanizing and resolute. A fine ensemble flurries around Mother Jones throughout the musical. As they seek to Raise a Little Hell, they keep pushing their cause forward.
Four children were in the cast, and they do a fine job, as the factories were filled with both children and adults during that time period. Other lead characters include union leaders and adult workers. They are a strong and, yet, still graceful ensemble, and they handle the politics in the musical with a light hand. There are some winning moments, particularly as they organize before setting out to meet with President Teddy Roosevelt.
The fine performances are directed by Michelle Tattenbaum. Even though much of the play looked choreographic, it did not seem too poetic. Choreographer Clare Cook uses some inventive techniques while showing scenes in the factory, and the cast is able to execute the movement with ease and flexibility. The music from the show explodes in march songs and bold ensemble numbers. The score, by Cheryl E. Kemeny, is, in fact, vibrant and Micah Young does a good job with the Musical Direction. He leads a balanced ensemble, and voices are often blended and raised in song.
The New York Musical Theatre Festival exists to ensure the vitality of America’s greatest art form by providing an affordable way for artists to mount professional productions that reach their peers, industry leaders, and musical theatre audiences. NYMF was honored last year with a Drama Desk Award for ten years of creating and nurturing new musical theater.
“Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade” is playing at NYMF on July 24th at 9PM and July 26th at 2PM. For tickets or other information, please call 212.352.3101 or visit www.nymf.org.