A piece of dramatic, American theatre history reaches the screen Dec. 8, when Tim Robbins' film, "Cradle Will Rock," about the famous Federal Theatre Project production of Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock, opens in theatres nationwide. The 1937 production of The Cradle Will Rock, which was directed by a young Orson Welles, is one of the few politically-charged theatrical events in U.S. history. Backed by the government's FTP project, the leftist, satiric musical was set to open at the Maxine Elliot Theatre on June 16, but its funds were suddenly cut and the theatre shut by a Communism-fearing Congress. In reaction, Welles and producer John Houseman instantly transferred the musical to the Venice Theatre 20 blocks away, where the cast performed the work from the audience to keep within union rules.
Welles and Houseman later resurrected The Cradle Will Rock at their own Mercury Theatre.
Playing Welles in the film is Scottish actor Angus MacFadyen, while Cary Elwes plays Houseman. Hank Azaria is Blitzstein, John Turturro is actor Aldo Silvano and theatre actress Cherry Jones plays Hallie Flanagan, who fights for the life of the WPA Theatre before Congress.
The cast of the musical-within-a-film includes many New York theatre actors, such as Henry Stram, Daniel Jenkins and Victoria Clark. Other familiar stage names featured in the movie are Stephen Spinella, Harris Yulin (as a politician), Albert Macklin, Peter Jacobson, Bob Balaban, Paul Giamatti, Barnard Hughes, Steven Skybell, Audra McDonald (voice only), Robert Ari, Michele Pawk, Gregg Edelman, P.J. Brown, Carrie Preston and Keira Naughton.
--By Robert Simonson