The Cradle Will Rock New York City Center Encores! Off Center

cradle

Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.

July 11, 2013

The Cradle Will Rock, a play with music, lyrics and book by Marc Blitzstein (Juno, the long running off Broadway Threepenny Opera, Regina) has a famous production history.  Originally produced by Federal Theater Project of the WPA, it was cancelled shortly before its premiere.  The production, directed by Orson Welles, marched 21 blocks uptown to another theater along with the opening night crowd.  Actors Equity forbid the actors to appear on stage so they sat in the audience and Blitzstein himself played the piano.  It was a great success; another producer was found, and it has had three successful productions.  Jeanine Tesori, the artistic director of the New York City Encores! Off Center series has chosen it for its initial production.  I attended a New York City Opera production in 1960 in the same theater with Tammy Grimes as Moll.

With superb music direction by Chris Fenwick and great jazz orchestrations by Josh Clayton, the cast for this production featured famous Broadway and off Broadway stars.  This was a “concert” type presentation with the singers and actors in formal attire seated on stools in front of the orchestra but the scenes were staged by Sam Gold and choreographed by Chase Block.

One of the differences in this production is that it is “color blind,“ meaning some great black singers played parts usually played by whites.  The stellar cast,  included Raul Esparza (who was sensational, and rarely held book), Danny Burstein as Mr. Mister, the steel town factory owner, Peter Friedman as Harry Druggist, Anika Noni Rose as Moll (the Tammy Grimes part), who stopped the show with “Nickel Under My Foot,” Robert Petkoff as Professor Trixie (a part in drag.) David Margulies as President Prexy, Judy Kuhn transgendered as Editor Daly, a male tenor part (sporting a cigar), as well as Sadie Polack. Michael Park as Bugs, stripped to bare chest in one song, Matthew Saldivar (who recently played F. Scott Fitzgerald in Tales of the Jazz Age at the Carlyle) as Reverend Salvation, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Ghost) who stopped the show with her big number “Joe Worker.”  Henry Stram played Junior Mister and he was energetic and sang his Honolulu number wonderfully with Kuhn.  Stram also joined with Martin Moran for the brilliant Gallagher and Sheen vaudeville number “Art for Art’s Sake.”

This is a very rare opportunity to see a musical masterpiece with a superb cast in every part.  The Cradle Will Rock repeats Thursday 7.11 at 7:30 pm, Friday 7/12 at 8 pm, and Saturday 7/13 at 2 pm and 8 pm.  131 West 55th Street, NYC  – Don’t miss it!

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