Patti LuPone and Son Shine Together in Acting Company's Cradle Will Rock Benefit

Two-time Tony Award-winner Patti LuPone returned to her Olivier Award-winning role of Moll in Marc Blitzstein's socialist 1937 musical The Cradle Will Rock May 19 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone (Photo by Ethan Hill)

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The one-night only concert, directed by Lonny Price, was a benefit for The Acting Company, of which LuPone was a founding member and with whom she first played Moll Off-Broadway in 1983. LuPone was joined onstage by her son, 2013-14 Acting Company member Joshua Johnston, as well as her cousin Johann Carlo.

Read Playbill.com's interview with LuPone and Johnston here

Returning to the show were several members of the original 1983 revival company including Casey Biggs, Randle Mell, Brian Reddy, Tom Alan Robbins, Mary Lou Rosato, David Schramm, Denise Woods and at the piano, musical director Michael Barrett. Rounding out the cast were Acting Company alumni Fred Arsenault, Todd Cerveris, Suzy Kohane, Dakin Matthews, Grant Fletcher Prewitt and Derek Smith.

Presented at the Bernard Jacobs Theater, on the set of Once, The Cradle Will Rock began, as it did in 1983, with John Houseman's description of the show's legendary premiere in 1937, when the banned piece had to be performed by cast members scattered throughout the house as a workaround to the edict barring them from appearing in the production "on stage." The 2014 audience audience was particularly amused by Houseman's claim that The Cradle Will Rock was described by Blitzstein as "a labor opera composed in a style that falls somewhere between realism, romance, vaudeville, comic strip, Gilbert and Sullivan, Brecht and Agit Prop." This time, Houseman's words were voiced by the cast members themselves; a few of them stood in two of the audience boxes, providing a taste of the original experience.

The show proper was performed on the stage and basically in a replica of Houseman's 1983 staging, slightly simplified for the concert presentation. No one held scripts, and the entire cast delivered at the top of their game.

From the haunting first notes of the opening, "Moll's Song" (also known as "I'm Checkin' Home Now"), LuPone seemed to be time travelling, perhaps playing the role via muscle memory, as she sounded essentially identical to her 1983 cast album performance. For anyone who's ever wondered how she won an Olivier Award for a part in an ensemble show that ran only a few weeks, her performance was a revelation, especially her iconic rendition of "The Nickel Under Your Foot." LuPone's Moll is tired and world-weary — a hooker who's hungry but too exhausted to make a very convincing play for any of her potential Johns. But at the core of the throaty wail of this broken woman is an aching sweetness, a longing that makes her the heart of The Cradle Will Rock. As she sits in night court, waiting for her sentence, she is the spirit of the worker, addicted to the trappings of a bourgeois society, from which she is shut out.

Mary Lou Rosato

Patti LuPone didn't play the additional role of Sister Mister (as she had in 1983) because Henry Stram was not available to recreate his performance as Junior Mister. Although we missed out on LuPone's dementedly daffy soprano in "Croon Spoon" and "Let's Do Something," her cousin Johann Carlo was a delightful substitute, alongside Todd Cerveris, who stepped in as Junior Mister. Joshua Johnston gave an impressive performance as Bugs, the heavy who comes into the drugstore to lean on Harry Druggist.

Another thrill was to see the great Mary Lou Rosato recreate her hilarious performance as Mrs. Mister, manipulating Reverend Salvation (Derek Smith) in "Hard Times," first to discourage war, and then, eventually to condone it, as it suited her fortunes.

David Schramm returned authoritatively to the role of Mr. Mister, particularly foreboding controlling the media with Tom Alan Robbins as Editor Daily in "The Freedom Of The Press." And Casey Biggs and Randle Mell were wonderfully smarmy recreating Yasha and Dauber in the duet "Don't Let Me Keep You."

Denise Woods brought gutsy fire to her impassioned delivery of "Joe Worker" and offered a stirring reminder that after all the laughs, The Cradle Will Rock is ultimately a message show.

As a Patti LuPone fan, I couldn't help but watch her throughout the performance (the company was seated onstage for the duration, as in 1983). It was fun to watch her tickled by Mary Lou Rosato and grooving out to the beat of "Let's Do Something." She beamed with pride as Joshua Johnston commanded the stage and seemed visibly moved by Denise Woods. I know I enjoyed the production, but it's safe to say LuPone's thumbs-up carries more weight.