Marc Blitzstein's searing, but seldom-seen musical, The Cradle Will Rock, will be presented by Off-Broadway's Jean Cocteau Repertory, Aug. 18-Oct. 19. This will be the first major New York City revival of the work in many years, and certainly the first since Tim Robbins' 1999 film, "Cradle Will Rock," revived interest in the show.
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 Federal Theater 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. Blitzstein played the piano on stage, while one other musician, an accordionist, joined him from the stalls.
Welles and Houseman's impetuous action probably precipitated the death of the FTP several months later. The Mercury Theatre -- the group Welles and Houseman formed shortly afterwards -- later revived The Cradle Will Rock and took it on a tour of the nation, where it had middling commercial success.
Tim Robbins' film -- which took its name by lopping the "The" off the Blitzstein title -- spun many storylines, but focused on the famous FTP production. Playing Welles as a loutish drunkard in the film was Scottish actor Angus MacFadyen, while Cary Elwes played Houseman. Hank Azaria was Blitzstein, John Turturro was actor Aldo Silvano and theatre actress Cherry Jones played Hallie Flanagan, who fights for the life of the WPA Theatre before Congress.
No cast or director has been announced for Jean Cocteau production. *
As for the rest of the Cocteau season, it's a mix of JCR favorites, including Shakespeare, Stoppard and Moliere. The schedule runs as follows:
• The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein, Aug. 18-Oct. 19
• The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare, Oct. 6-Dec. 14
• Night and Day by Tom Stoppard, Dec. 1, 2000-Feb. 22, 2001
• The Country Girl by Clifford Odets, Feb. 9-April 1, 2001
• The Misanthrope by Moliere, April 6-May 27, 2001
• A sixth play to be announced
Tickets are $24-$30. The Jean Cocteau is located at 330 Bowery in Manhattan. For information, call (212) 677-0060.
--By Robert Simonson