A play in music in ten scenes.
Music and text by Marc Blitzstein.
Marc Blitzstein (far right) rehearses the cast in 1937.
Cast: Moll, Gent, Dick, Cop, Harry Druggist, Reverend Salvation, Editor Daily, Mr. Mister, Mrs. Mister, Junior Mister, Sister Mister, Stevie, Sadie Polock, Gus Polock, Yasha, Dauber, Larry Foreman, President Prexy, Professor Trixie, Professor Scoot, Professor Mamie, Dr. Specialist, Ella Hammer, Chorus (Note: The play is largely through-composed, and most characters sing both conventionally and in parlando.)
Orchestra: 1.0.2.alto sax,tenor sax; 0.2.1.0; piano, accordion, guitar, percussion; strings.
Reduced Orchestration (14 players): reed 1 (flute, piccolo, clarinet, alto sax), reed 2 (clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax), reed 3 (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax, baritone sax); 0.1.1.0; percussion (one player), piano, accordion, guitar; 1 vn I, 1 vn II, 1 va, 1 vc, 1 cb. (Note: Reduced orchestration prepared in 2013 by Josh Clayton.)
Duration: full evening
Performance Rights and Rentals: U.S. and Canada: EAMC
First performance: December 5, 1937, New York, Mercury Theatre, Orson Welles, dir., Marc Blitzstein, piano
Steeltown, USA, 1937. Moll, a prostitute, tries to attract a customer, but a detective intervenes to arrest her for soliciting. He mentions a union rally downtown. Then another policeman enters, having rounded up the anti-union Liberty Committee by mistake, and places them under arrest. Everyone proceeds to night court. The respectable members of the Committee protest their innocence as Harry Druggist looks on. He tells Moll about the all-powerful Mr. Mister, who runs the town, and points out that everyone has sold out to him one way or another. Then we hear a sequence of excerpted sermons given by Reverend Salvation that proves the point that he will say anything his paymasters tell him to say. The scene shifts to Mr. Mister's disreputable children ("Croon Spoon"). Mr. Mister himself commissions Editor Daily to dig up dirt on union organizer Larry Foreman, and the editor agrees ("The Freedom of the Press"). He also agrees to give Junior Mister a job and get him out of town ("Honolulu"). Then Harry Druggist tells his story; he cooperated with thugs working for Mr. Mister in setting up Gus Polock and his wife ("Gus and Sadie Love Song") to be killed in an explosion. He hoped to preserve his drugstore by doing so, but he loses the store and his son and has become a vagrant. The scene shifts to a conversation between Yasha, a musician, and Dauber, a painter ("The Rich"). They realize that they are both waiting for Mrs. Mister, their patron. When she arrives, they fawn over her, begging to be invited to a weekend party ("Art for Art's Sake"). Back in the night court, Moll sings about poverty ("Nickel under the Foot"); Larry Foreman enters, charged with making speeches and distributing leaflets ("Leaflets"). He explains the power of unions in the class struggle ("The Cradle Will Rock"). In the next scene, Mr. Mister visits President Prexy at the university to request a professor to help stir up the students against the union. Two of the professors are unsatisfactory, but football coach Professor Trixie fills the bill. Next, Mr. Mister visits Dr. Specialist; in the course of a check-up, he tells the doctor that he must testify that Joe Worker, a union organizer, was drunk when he fell and was injured. Dr. Specialist knows this is not true, but he wishes to maintain his position as head of the Liberty Committee. Joe's sister Ella pleads with him to tell the truth and defend the working man ("Joe Worker"), but the doctor lies. In the final scene, Mr. Mister appears and attempts to entice Larry with promises of more money and amenities for the workers ("Nickel under the Foot" reprise), but Larry is unmoved and threatens the wealthy and powerful with a more powerful union, which will brew up a storm that will knock the wealthy down from their perch at the top of the tree ("The Cradle Will Rock" reprise).
|Pearl CD GEMS 0009||Original cast: Howard da Silva, Ralph MacBane, Olive Stanton, Peggy Coudray, et al.; Marc Blitzstein, piano|
|Spoken Arts LP 717||Evelyn Lear, Roddy MacDowall, Jane Connell, Alvin Epstein; Marc Blitzstein, narrator and piano (excerpts with commentary from LP, Marc Blitzstein Discusses His Theatre Compositions)|
|CRI LP SD 266||Jerry Orbach, Lauri Peters, Nancy Andrews; Gershon Kingsley, piano|
|JAY CD CDJAY 1300||Patti LuPone, Randle Mell, David Schramm, Mary Lou Rosato; Michael Barrett, piano, Acting Company cast (1985) directed by John Houseman|
"Blitzstein's book retains a biting humor . . . The score is supple, eclectic and consistently engaging . . . [Blitzstein] knew his Bach and Beethoven, and riffs on both to comic effect in Cradle, but the score has a jaunty, driving appeal that ultimately owes more to jazz and other pop music forms . . . The music rambles widely across genres, to continually revivifying effect. And when Blitzstein allows the have-nots to step forward, the impulse to skewer recedes and he reveals a gift for gently soaring melody that can be enchanting."
--New York Times, 2013
"Blitzstein's eclectic, mostly sung-through score is a jazzy, propulsive mix of classical parody, pop tunes and dramatic ensemble numbers. Some of the music is haunting ("Moll's Song"), some of it is funny ("Croon Spoon") and all of it is effective, with a smoky flavor redolent of Kurt Weill but all-American in its urgency."
--New Jersey Newsroom, 2013
"Infused with raw energy . . . Blitzstein . . . combined moments of realism, vaudeville, Brechtian detachment and other theatrical forms in his episodic story that continually shifted tone . . . His balance between spoken book dialogue and sung recitative is striking in its dramatic effectiveness."
--Broadway World, 2013
"A relevant and vital powerhouse . . . The savage humor and brazenness of this show still retain impact."
--Jewish Daily Forward, 2013