Friday, October 2, 2009

Play of the Week: The Cradle Will Rock

The Cradle Will Rock's story of how it made it to its opening night performance is perhaps more intersting than the plot of the play itself. Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject. I am trying to track down the narrative of Orson Welles (he directed the original production). His personal telling is quite thorough and interesting.

Originally set to open at the Maxine Elliott Theatre with elaborate sets and a full orchestra, the production was shut down due to "budget cuts" within the Federal Theatre Project—though it was widely believed that this was instead because of accusations that it is pro-communism. The theatre was padlocked and surrounded by armed servicemen, ostensibly to prevent anyone from stealing props or costumes, as all of this was considered U. S. Government property. They even impounded leading man Howard Da Silva's toupee.

On the spur of the moment, Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein rented the much larger Venice Theatre and a piano, and planned for Blitzstein to sing/play/read the entire musical to the sold out house which had grown larger by inviting people off the street to attend for free. Blitzstein encouraged cast members to say their lines from the audience, to exercise their right of free speech.

Just after beginning the first number, Blitzstein was joined by Olive Stanton, the actor playing Moll, who joined in from the audience, since she (along with the rest of the cast) was forbidden by Actor's Equity to perform the piece "onstage". During the rest of the performance, various actors joined in with Blitzstein and performed the entire musical from the house. Actors sang across the theatre to one another.

Happy Birthday: Avery Brooks (b. 1948)

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