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The Cradle Will Rock

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Among the most interesting things about Marc Blitzstein’ s 1937 musical, The Cradle Will Rock, is that as part of the Federal Theatre Project, and under the artistic direction of Orson Welles, the original production was forcibly shut-down—purportedly due to budget mandates. The Maxine Elliot Theatre, where the show was to debut in New York City, was padlocked and enveloped by U.S. troops providing security. That story is liberally chronicled in Tim Robbins’ 1999 film, Cradle Will Rock.

Another intriguing factoid about The Cradle is that Welles’ initial cast—including Howard De Silva (whose performance toupee was confiscated and impounded by government agents) and Will Geer (later Grandpa on TV’ s “ The Waltons” )—recorded the show on seven 78-rpm discs and then released them for distribution. It became the first cast album recording ever created of theater or cinema.

Southern California audiences now have the chance to experience The Cradle Will Rock (at Hollywood’ s Stella Adler Theatre, through March 20) live, up-close and—even if it’ s not exactly a personal encounter—at least it’ s a socio-economic examination of a bygone era, which seems especially pertinent today.

Having neither the character specificity of Clifford Odets nor the affective resonance of Arthur Miller, Blitzstein’ s musical drama does have the aesthetic distancing of Bertolt Brecht’ s so-called alienation effect. We are given archetypes instead of fleshed-out characterizations. Rather than being nourished by dialog, we are fed polemics.

Undoubtedly, under Daniel Hennings direction, we get Blitzstein’ s Cradle just the playwright/composer meant it to be: unsubtle agitprop put to a progressive political beat. It’ s the story of corruption, greed, and corporate exploitation (sound familiar?).We follow the travails of protagonist Larry Foreman, a union organizer (Rex Smith in strong voice and presence). The antagonist and arch-villain is business mogul Mr. Mister (an imposing Peter Van Norden). Mr. Mister has his line-up of bourgeois acolytes—including a venal clergyman (Christopher Carroll), a sell-out artist (Roland Rusinek), a fund-chasing college president (Matthew Patrick Davis), and a dubious medical doctor (Rob Roy Cesar).

With a litany of songs and one piano player (David O, musical director) pounding out melodies in the 90 minute, intermissionless show, none of Blitzstein’ s lyrics or music are hummable or memorable. What does stick with us, however, is the vigor and dedication of this 19 member ensemble. If energy were wealth, this Cradle would rock with riches. Regrettably, the staging wears thin before it ends.

On a minimalists set (scenic design by Kurt Boetcher did little more than add a piano to the black-box stage), with impressively vintage costumes (by Naila Aladdin Sanders) less drama than pageantry is delivered here. Still, with stalwart performers such as Gigi Bermingham as Mrs. Mister, Tiffany C. Adams as Moll, Jack Laufer as Harry Druggest, and Adam Wylie as Junior Mister the sheer vitality and pertinence of “ Cradle” warrants the attention of avid theatergoers. 

The Cradle Will Rock, a Blank Theatre production, continues at the Stella Adler Theatre—6773 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood—through March 20. Show times are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations, dial (323) 661-9827. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.theblank.com.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.