The Cradle Will Rock
The Cradle Will Rock is a 1937 musical by Marc Blitzstein
Marc Blitzstein
Marcus Samuel Blitzstein, better known as Marc Blitzstein , was an American composer. He won national attention in 1937 when his pro-union musical The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles, was shut down by the Works Progress Administration...

. Originally a part of the Federal Theatre Project
Federal Theatre Project
The Federal Theatre Project was a New Deal project to fund theatre and other live artistic performances in the United States during the Great Depression. It was one of five Federal One projects sponsored by the Works Progress Administration...

, it was directed by Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

, and produced by John Houseman
John Houseman
John Houseman was a Romanian-born British-American actor and film producer who became known for his highly publicized collaboration with director Orson Welles from their days in the Federal Theatre Project through to the production of Citizen Kane...

. The show was recorded and released on seven 78-rpm discs in 1938, making it the first cast album recording.

The musical is a Brechtian allegory of corruption and corporate greed. Set in "Steeltown, USA", it follows the efforts of Larry Foreman to unionize
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

 the town's workers and otherwise combat wicked, greedy businessman Mr. Mister, who controls the town's factory, press, church and social organization. Blitzstein portrays a whole panoply of societal figures: Mr. Mister's vicious, outwardly genteel philanthropic wife and spoiled children, sell-out artists, poor shopkeepers, immigrant families, a faithless priest, and an endearing prostitute named Moll. The piece is almost entirely sung-through
Sung-through refers to a musical or opera with no spoken dialogue, except perhaps for some occasional lines included in some part of a song, but never as stand-alone dialogue...

, giving it many opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

tic qualities, although Blitzstein (as he often did, even in his full-blown operas) included popular song styles of the time.


Setting: Steeltown, U.S.A.

Act I

Moll, a prostitute, is arrested and jailed for refusing her services to a police officer loyal to Mr. Mister, the owner of the steel factory — and everything else in town. Members of the Liberty Committee, a group of prominent citizens who oppose the union, are also arrested, because a policeman mistook them for union organizers. At night court, Moll meets Harry Druggist, who is continually arrested for vagrancy after having lost his drugstore because of Mr. Mister.

Harry tells Moll that the Liberty Committee are bigger prostitutes than she is; he explains how they, and even himself, have sold out to Mr. Mister. In a series of flashbacks, we see this happen: Reverend Salvation is convinced by Mrs. Mister to make sermons on World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 that are convenient to the profits of the steel industry, Editor Daily of the Steeltown News runs stories against union organizer Larry Foreman and gives Junior Mister a correspondence job in Honolulu. Harry's son Stevie is killed trying to save Gus Polock, an immigrant steelworker, from a bomb planted by one of Mr. Mister's henchmen, after Harry had agreed to stay quiet in order to keep his store.

Act II

More flashbacks show other Liberty Committee members selling out to Mr. Mister. The painter Dauber and the violinist Yasha work for Mrs. Mister, using their art to support her husband's ideals.

In the present, Larry Foreman is beaten by the police and jailed for "inciting to riot". He explains the principle behind unions, and says that the time is coming when "the cradle will rock" and overthrow Mr. Mister and others like him.

In another flashback, Mr. Mister has President Prexy and other faculty at Steeltown University get students to serve in the army. Doctor Specialist, Mr. Mister's personal doctor as well as the one that treated a worker who died in a machine accident, is threatened with the loss of his chairmanship of the Liberty Committee if he does not report that the worker was drunk. Ella Hammer, the worker's sister, knows that he was pushed, and angrily confronts the doctor.

When Mr. Mister arrives at night court to release the Liberty Committee, he offers Foreman a place on the Committee if he will give up his union activities. Foreman refuses: though a common man, he stands up to the corrupt forces of Mr. Mister. Mr. Mister feels that his monopoly may be slipping away. He confronts Foreman, but the workers are rising up.

Musical Numbers

Source:GuideToMusicalTheatre and Internet Broadway Database Listing
  • Moll's Song (I'm Checkin' Home Now) - The Moll
  • Moll and Gent - The Moll, A Gent
  • Moll and Dick - The Moll, A Dick
  • Moll and Druggist - The Moll, Druggist
  • Oh, What a Filthy Night Court! - Editor Daily, Prexie, Yasha, Dauber, Doctor Specialist, Reverend Salvation
  • Mrs. Mister and Reverend Salvation - Mrs. Mister, Reverend Salvation
  • Croon Spoon - Junior Mister, Sister Mister
  • The Freedom of the Press - Editor Daily, Mr. Mister
  • Let's Do Something - Junior Mister, Sister Mister
  • Honolulu - Editor Daily, Junior Mister, Mr. Mister, Sister Mister
  • Drugstore Scene - Druggist, Steve, Bugs
  • Gus and Sadie Love Song - Gus Polock and Sadie Polock
  • The Rich - Yasha, Dauber
  • Ask Us Again - Yasha, Dauber, Mrs. Mister
  • Art for Art's Sake - Yasha, Dauber
  • Nickel Under the Foot - The Moll
  • Leaflets - Larry
  • The Cradle Will Rock - Larry
  • Faculty Room Scene - Mr. Mister, Prexie, Professor Trixie, Professor Scoot
  • Doctor and Ella - Ella Hammer
  • Joe Worker - Ella Hammer
  • Finale/The Cradle Will Rock (reprise) - Larry, Ensemble

Principal Singing Roles

  • Moll - mezzo-soprano
  • Ella Hammer - mezzo-soprano
  • Editor Daily - tenor
  • Larry Foreman - baritone
  • Mr. Mister - bass

Audio Recordings

key to casts: Moll/Ella Hammer/Editor Daily/Larry Foreman/Mr. Mister
  • 1938 - label: Musicraft - conductor: Blitzstein - cast: Stanton/Collins/Weston/da Silva/MacBane
  • 1964 - label: MGM - conductor: Kingsley - cast: Peters-L/Grant/Dittmann/Orbach/Clarke
  • 1985 - label: TER - conductor: Barrett - cast: LuPone/Woods-MD/Matthews-A/Mell/Schramm
  • 1994 - label: Lockett-Palmer - conductor: Bates - cast: Dawn?/Green-MP?/Lund?/Baratta?/van Norden?
  • 1999 - label: RCA Victor - conductor: Campbell - cast: Harvey/McDonald/unknown/unknown/unknown (soundtrack of Robbins movie; music is abridged)

Original production

Originally set to open at the Maxine Elliott Theatre
Maxine Elliott Theatre
The Maxine Elliott Theatre was a Broadway theater located at 109 West 39th Street in New York City. Built in 1908, it was demolished in 1960. The theater was designed by architect Benjamin Marshall of the Chicago firm Marshall and Fox....

 in New York in June 1937 with elaborate sets and a full orchestra, the production was shut down due to political pressureand budget cuts within the Federal Theatre Project. The play was thought to be communist and leftist. The theatre was padlocked and surrounded by security to prevent anyone from stealing props or costumes, as all of this was considered U. S. Government property and could not be used in a for-profit theaterical production. According to The New York Times, "Within three days their theater the Maxine Elliott...was invaded by a dozen uniformed W.P.A. guards bearing strict orders prohibiting the removal of such Government property as scenery, props and costumes." after receiving a memo prohibiting the performance of the play.

The production was targeted by the government because of its leftist politics. The production was forbidden to be performed onstage, with the government threatening arrest to any actor appearing onstage.

On the spur of the moment, Welles, Houseman, and Blitzstein rented the much larger Venice Theatre and a piano, for a performance on June 17, 1937. They 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. Just after beginning the first number, Blitzstein was joined by Olive Stanton, the actor playing Moll, from the audience. During the rest of the performance, various actors joined in with Blitzstein and performed the entire musical from the house. Cast members sang their lines from the audience and actors sang across the theatre to one another.

According to The New York Times account, "Persons who heard the opera's score and extracts last night carried no clear impression except that its theme was that steel workers should join a union." Poet Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish was an American poet, writer, and the Librarian of Congress. He is associated with the Modernist school of poetry. He received three Pulitzer Prizes for his work.-Early years:...

, who was in the audience, "praised the 'vitality' of the Federal Theatre Project." The success of the performance led Welles and Houseman to form the Mercury Theatre
Mercury Theatre
The Mercury Theatre was a theatre company founded in New York City in 1937 by Orson Welles and John Houseman. After a string of live theatrical productions, in 1938 the Mercury Theatre progressed into their best-known period as The Mercury Theatre on the Air, a radio series that included one of the...


Later productions

Broadway and Off-Broadway

Following the impromptu opening and a brief run at the Venice Theatre (later renamed the New Century Theatre) in July 1937, the production reopened on January 3, 1938, at the Windsor Theatre under the auspices of the new Mercury Theatre Company. It played a total of 108 performances.

The musical was revived on Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 on December 26, 1947, at the Mansfield Theater (subsequently moving to The Broadway Theatre
The Broadway Theatre
The Broadway Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 1681 Broadway in midtown-Manhattan....

) with a cast that included Alfred Drake
Alfred Drake
Alfred Drake was an American actor and singer.-Biography:Born as Alfred Capurro in New York City, the son of parents emigrated from Recco, Genoa, Drake began his Broadway career while still a student at Brooklyn College...

 (Larry Foreman), Vivian Vance
Vivian Vance
Vivian Roberta Jones was an American television and theater actress and singer. Often referred to as “TV’s most beloved second banana,” she is best known for her role as Ethel Mertz, sidekick to Lucille Ball on the American television sitcom I Love Lucy, and as Vivian Bagley on The Lucy...

 (Mrs. Mister), Jack Albertson
Jack Albertson
Jack Albertson was an American character actor dating to vaudeville. A comedian, dancer, singer, and musician, Albertson is perhaps best known for his roles as Manny Rosen in The Poseidon Adventure , Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Amos Slade in the 1981 animated film The Fox...

 (Yasha), and original cast member Will Geer
Will Geer
Will Geer was an American actor and social activist. His original name was William Aughe Ghere. He is remembered for his portrayal of Grandpa Zebulon Tyler Walton in the 1970s TV series, The Waltons....

 (Mr. Mister). The production was directed by Howard Da Silva
Howard Da Silva
Howard Da Silva was an American actor.-Early life:He was born Howard Silverblatt in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Benjamin and Bertha Silverblatt. His parents were both Yiddish speaking Jews born in Russia. He had a job as a steelworker before beginning his acting career on the stage...

and played 34 performances.

The show was revived Off-Broadway
Off-Broadway theater is a term for a professional venue in New York City with a seating capacity between 100 and 499, and for a specific production of a play, musical or revue that appears in such a venue, and which adheres to related trade union and other contracts...

 in 1964 in a production starring Jerry Orbach
Jerry Orbach
Jerome Bernard "Jerry" Orbach was an American actor and singer. He was well known for his starring role as Detective Lennie Briscoe in the Law & Order television series and as the voice of Lumière in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. As well, Orbach was a noted musical theatre star...

 (Larry Foreman), Nancy Andrews
Nancy Andrews (actress)
Nancy Andrews was an American stage and film actress and singer.- Biography :Nancy Andrews was born in Minneapolis on December 16, 1920. Her parents were James Currier Andrews and Grace Ella Andrews . She attended Beverley Hills High School and the Los Angeles City College...

 (Mrs. Mister), and Lauri Peters
Lauri Peters
Lauri Peters is an American actress, dancer, singer, drama teacher and author. Birth name - Patricia Peterson.Peters created the role of Liesl Von Trapp in the original 1959 Broadway production of The Sound of Music. She received a Tony Award nomination for Best Supporting or Featured Actress in...

 (Moll), directed by Howard Da Silva. Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

 acted as music supervisor. The production ran at Theatre Four for 82 performances. This production won the Obie Award
Obie Award
The Obie Awards or Off-Broadway Theater Awards are annual awards given by The Village Voice newspaper to theatre artists and groups in New York City...

 as Best Musical Production and Dean Dittman (who played Editor Daily) won the Obie for Distinguished Performance.

The Acting Company
The Acting Company
The Acting Company is a theatre company associated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1972 by John Houseman, then a professor of acting at the Juilliard School...

 presented an Off-Broadway production at the American Place Theater from May 9, 1983 to May 29, 1983, directed by John Houseman and featuring a spoken introduction by Houseman, and starring Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone
Patti Ann LuPone is an American singer and actress, known for her Tony Award-winning performances as Eva Perón in the 1979 stage musical Evita and as Madame Rose in the 2008 Broadway revival of Gypsy, and for her Olivier Award-winning performance as Fantine in the original London cast of Les...

. This production was done "on a dark stage, decorated only with chairs and Dennis Parichy's poetic lighting. At dead center is the upright piano, whose expert player, Michael Barrett, delivers the Brechtian scene-setting announcements as Blitzstein once did." This production was premiered at The Acting Company's summer home at Chautauqua Institution
Chautauqua Institution
The Chautauqua Institution is a non-profit adult education center and summer resort located on 750 acres in Chautauqua, New York, 17 miles northwest of Jamestown in the western part of New York State...

.During the run a man jumped onto the stage at the end of the play and screamed "Mr. Mister is still among us and the only way to defeat him is to JOIN THE COMMUNIST PARTY!"

Other productions
Blitzstein's rarely heard orchestrations were used in a February 21, 1960 broadcast by the New York City Opera
New York City Opera
The New York City Opera is an American opera company located in New York City.The company, called "the people's opera" by New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, was founded in 1943 with the aim of making opera financially accessible to a wide audience, producing an innovative choice of repertory, and...

 featuring Tammy Grimes
Tammy Grimes
-Early life:Grimes was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the daughter of Eola Willard , a naturalist and spiritualist, and Nicholas Luther Grimes, an innkeeper, country-club manager, and farmer. She attended high school at the then-all girls school, Beaver Country Day School, in Chestnut Hill,...

 and David Atkinson.

The show was revived again in 1985 featuring alumni members of The Acting Company
The Acting Company
The Acting Company is a theatre company associated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1972 by John Houseman, then a professor of acting at the Juilliard School...

, in London's West End
West End theatre
West End theatre is a popular term for mainstream professional theatre staged in the large theatres of London's 'Theatreland', the West End. Along with New York's Broadway theatre, West End theatre is usually considered to represent the highest level of commercial theatre in the English speaking...

. In this production Patti LuPone reprised her role as Moll and was honored with an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Mehmet Ergen directed a production in London for the Arcola Theatre's 10th Anniversary in 2010. It was the last show at the Arcola Street location, before the company moved to its new space, opposite the Dalston Junction station.

Amateur and school productions

The musical was performed shortly after its initial New York production by students at Harvard, with a young Leonard Bernstein narrating from the piano. It was performed by New Rochelle High School
New Rochelle High School
New Rochelle High School is a public high school, comprising grades 9 through 12, in New Rochelle, New York, operated by the City School District of New Rochelle. NRHS serves over 3,300 students; offering more than 240 courses, including honors, research and advanced placement courses.NRHS...

's Theatre Workshop of New Rochelle, New York
New Rochelle, New York
New Rochelle is a city in Westchester County, New York, United States, in the southeastern portion of the state.The town was settled by refugee Huguenots in 1688 who were fleeing persecution in France...

, at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2006. Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts
Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts
Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts is a high school specializing in teaching visual arts and performing arts, located near Lincoln Center and the Juilliard School in the Lincoln Center district of Manhattan, on Amsterdam Avenue...

, also known as the Fame school, produced the piece in 2007.

The New School
The New School
The New School is a university in New York City, located mostly in Greenwich Village. From its founding in 1919 by progressive New York academics, and for most of its history, the university was known as the New School for Social Research. Between 1997 and 2005 it was known as New School University...

 University Student Senate produced The Cradle Will Rock directed by Sean Elias at the Off-Broadway venue, Theatre 80, for a weekend run. The production was part of the first Intercollegiate Collaborative Arts Project (iCAP). iCAP required that students from each of the 8 colleges that comprise The New School be involved in mounting the production. The script was adapted for 2011 by JK Fowler with the addition of a new vignette conceived by JK Fowler and Dean Preston Shtainhorn .

Film, 1999

In 1999 writer/director Tim Robbins
Tim Robbins
Timothy Francis "Tim" Robbins is an American actor, screenwriter, director, producer, activist and musician. He is the former longtime partner of actress Susan Sarandon...

 wrote a semi-fictional film recounting the original production of The Cradle Will Rock. The film, entitled Cradle Will Rock
Cradle Will Rock
Cradle Will Rock is a 1999 drama film which chronicles the process and events that surrounded the production of the original 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein...

(without "The") blended the true history of Blitzstein's show with the creation (and subsequent destruction) of the original Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez was a prominent Mexican painter born in Guanajuato, Guanajuato, an active communist, and husband of Frida Kahlo . His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in...

 mural in the lobby of Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 commercial buildings covering between 48th and 51st streets in New York City, United States. Built by the Rockefeller family, it is located in the center of Midtown Manhattan, spanning the area between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. It was declared a National...

 (the Rivera mural was actually destroyed in 1934). Several of the original actors from the 1937 production were included as characters in the film, notably Olive Stanton, John Adair
John Adair
John Adair was an American pioneer, soldier and statesman. He was the eighth Governor of Kentucky and represented the state in both the U.S. House and Senate. Adair enlisted in the state militia and served in the Revolutionary War, where he was held captive by the British for a period of time...

, and Will Geer
Will Geer
Will Geer was an American actor and social activist. His original name was William Aughe Ghere. He is remembered for his portrayal of Grandpa Zebulon Tyler Walton in the 1970s TV series, The Waltons....

, while others were replaced by fictional characters. Leading man Howard Da Silva
Howard Da Silva
Howard Da Silva was an American actor.-Early life:He was born Howard Silverblatt in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Benjamin and Bertha Silverblatt. His parents were both Yiddish speaking Jews born in Russia. He had a job as a steelworker before beginning his acting career on the stage...

 was replaced by the fictional "Aldo Silvano" (John Turturro
John Turturro
John Michael Turturro is an American actor, writer and director known for his roles in the films Do the Right Thing , Miller's Crossing , Barton Fink , Quiz Show , The Big Lebowski , O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the Transformers film series...

). Although Will Geer
Will Geer
Will Geer was an American actor and social activist. His original name was William Aughe Ghere. He is remembered for his portrayal of Grandpa Zebulon Tyler Walton in the 1970s TV series, The Waltons....

 played Mr. Mister in the 1937 production, for the movie he was recast in the smaller role of the Druggist and a fictional actor named "Frank Marvel" (Barnard Hughes
Barnard Hughes
Bernard Aloysius Kiernan “Barnard” Hughes was an American actor of theater and film. Hughes became famous for a variety of roles; his most notable roles came after middle age, and he was often cast as a dithering authority figure or grandfatherly elder.-Personal life:Hughes was born in Bedford...

) portrayed Mr. Mister.

The film's climax recreates scenes from the original, legendary performance of the show, performed by veteran Broadway performers Victoria Clark
Victoria Clark
Victoria Clark is an American musical theatre singer and actress. Clark has performed in many Broadway musicals and in other theatre, film and television work, and her soprano voice can be heard on numerous cast albums and several animated films...

, Gregg Edelman
Gregg Edelman
Gregg Edelman is an American movie, television and theatre actor.Edelman was born in Chicago, Illinois, attended Niles North High School, where he starred as Lil' Abner opposite future soap star Nancy Lee Grahn, and was trained at Northwestern University...

, Audra McDonald
Audra McDonald
Audra Ann McDonald is an American actress and singer. She currently stars in the ABC television drama Private Practice as Dr. Naomi Bennett. She has appeared on the stage in both musicals and dramas, such as Ragtime and A Raisin in the Sun...

, Daniel Jenkins, Erin Hill
Erin Hill
Erin Hill is an American harpist, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actress. Her musical performances have ranged from pop, psychedelic, and science fiction to kids music, opera, and Celtic. Hill’s 2009 album with her Celtic group hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart...

, and Chris McKinney.

Robbins wrote a book (Cradle Will Rock: The Movie and the Moment, published by Newmarket Press, November 30, 1999, ISBN-13: 978-1557043993) about the original show, his adaptation, and the filming of the motion picture.

External links

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