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Chicago by John Olson

The Cradle Will Rock
White Horse Theatre Company

The Cradle Will Rock
Katie Stark, Patricia Corcoran, Marc Friedman, Jeremy Trager, Graham Kostic, Ed Rutherford (clockwise, from top left)
After White Horse’s last two productions, the successful but relatively small-cast pieces I Sing! and Merrily We Roll Along, one has to imagine that a lot of the city’s young talent wanted to get into their act. With The Cradle Will Rock‘s cast of thirteen (plus an onstage music director/pianist), each of whom gets a moment in the spotlight, White Horse is providing a terrific showcase for a larger number of the city’s aspiring musical thespians, most of whom are making their first appearance with the company. That they can shine in their individual moments while working so effectively as an ensemble is a real tribute to the performers and to the tight and fast-paced direction by Craig Joseph, and perfectly in sync with the collectivist philosophy of this 1937 political satire by Marc Blitzstein.

Parallels between Cradle’s theme of corporate dominance over the working classes, the government and societal institutions like the Church and the media are clearly but unobtrusively drawn through projections designed by Curtis Anderson and Andrew Moroney that occasionally provide a present-day comment on the action. A line of dialogue that reads “let George do it” is accompanied by a photo of the current U.S. President, for example. It would have been easy to take a cynical view toward Blitzstein’s political views of long-past era and play this for laughs, like the musical Urinetown it inspired. Instead, Joseph and cast take the politics and satire seriously while playing the characters as political cartoons. Joseph has the action fully blocked, forgoing the tradition of having the cast read their lines from the house in recognition of the show’s origins – in which the cast was required to do so due to union rules governing the substitute theater to which they were forced to move. In keeping with tradition, though, a single pianist provides the musical accompaniment on stage (as Blitzstein initially performed it) by music director Ryan Brewster.

There are a number of standouts among the uniformly fine cast, many of whom play multiple roles. Dana Tretta as Moll sells the “Moll’s Lament” and “The Nickel Under the Shoe” with sass and style. Geoffrey Plitt is a cocky Larry Foreman, the piece’s hero, with a sure and powerful voice that delivers the title song with conviction. Jeremy Trager has the most amazing, possessed bug-eyes as the corrupt Reverend Salvation and slips into a believable Eastern European accent as the sweet but doomed Gus. Ed Rutherford shows us the pragmatism of the newspaper editor who decides in favor of self-interest over journalistic ethics. G. William Zorn successfully underplays the evil Mr. Mister, owner of the steel mill and the most powerful man in town, showing how someone in that position would have to maintain a façade of reasonableness to keep his power.

The entire cast does a fine job with Blitzstein’s challenging score. For those of us who knew the piece primarily from its place in musical theater history or from the 1999 Tim Robbins film about its origins, White Horse’s production is a good introduction to the show itself as well as a fine intro to some younger performers who should be getting a lot more work around town in the coming years.

The Cradle Will Rock runs through March 25, 2006 at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave., Chicago. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20.00 and are available by calling toll-free at 877-238-5596, visiting www.whitehorsetheatre.com, or if available, at the door beginning 30 minutes prior to each performance.

Photo: Christy Pomaro

See the schedule of theatre productions in the Chicago area


-- John Olson



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