A Cry from the Heart for Social Justice

Cradle_Will_Rock_stage_0BY BILL RUDMAN

In its day, Cradle—the story of the struggle to form a union in a steel town—was controversial: so much so that the Federal government, which was producing it under the auspices of the New Deal-funded WPA and Federal Theatre Project, tried to shut it down. But to no avail: The show, directed by a wunderkind named Orson Welles, created a sensation, and when you attend our September concert performances at Beck Center or at Kent State University (whose acclaimed Musical Theatre Program is co-producing with us), you’ll be stunned by Cradle’s timeliness in this turbulent election year. The show is funny, it is angry, and it dares to dream of a more humane, less polarized society.

These days it seems that all of us, whatever our political views, are asking ourselves lots of big pre-November questions including:

  • Should it concern us that only 5% of Americans now have a union to protect their self-interests?
  • Does it feel as though the American system is in any way rigged against the “little guy”?
  • Does it ever seem as though the news media deliberately pit groups of Americans against each other?
  • In the 1960s, “power to the people” was a popular slogan. What do those words mean today?
  • What will it take to end discrimination against all minorities?
  • In 1937, when Blitzstein conceived Cradle, he felt the American Dream was at risk and urged the people to reclaim it. Sound familiar?

Cradle goes well beyond the theme of Unionism, challenging all of us to stay true to our principles no matter what the cost. When I asked Terri Kent and Nancy Maier to stage and music direct, respectively, neither of them knew the musical, but once they heard it, they immediately embraced it: “This is a great piece!,” pronounced Terri, and Nancy added, “The music and lyrics are some of the boldest ever created for the American stage.”

The Cradle Will Rock is not produced nearly often enough, though Oberlin Summer Theater Festival tackled it impressively three years ago. The show keeps getting revived in New York, though, winning rave reviews whenever it’s done: for example, in 1964, with union organizer Larry Foreman played by the young Jerry Orbach (Joe Monaghan in our production); in 1983, featuring Patti LuPone; and just last year at City Center Encores! Off-Broadway with Danny Burstein. In 1999, Tim Robbins made a provocative film about its creation, which we will screen September 11 at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Click HERE for more info.

In 1937, this is what New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson had to say about Cradle:
“It raises a theatergoer’s metabolism and blows him out of the theater on the thunder of the grand finale.” No less true today.

Click HERE for ticket info.