Emilie Whelan, Ian Hock and Philip Yiannopoulos star in The Cradle Will Rock.
There's no telling if the prostitutes of Steeltown are getting ready to unionize, but The Cradle Will Roc
k opens with Moll (Emilie Whelan) trying to work out a decent price with a prospective client and bemoaning the sorry state of wages and law enforcement as she's hassled by a policeman, who also shakes down the client. It's a funny start, with a nice ballad by Whelan, in Cripple Creek Theatre Company's free production of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 politically conscious musical.
Times are toughest for the factory workers in Steeltown, but the ensemble piece is mostly comic. focusing on people in professions not often valorized in labor struggles. A preacher, university official, doctor, newspaper editor and others find themselves in a pinch. The local oligarch, Mr. Mister (Andrew Kingsley), who owns or controls everything in town, has appointed them to serve on the prestigious Liberty Committee. When one of their meetings is mistaken for a union organizing event, they're all hauled into night court, and the police have no problem drumming up charges against them, starting with loitering. They expect Mr. Mister to call the judge and have them released, and they slowly learn how capitalism works. Mr. Mister expects plenty in return for his financial patronage and string-pulling.
One of the more entertaining interludes involves Mr. Mister's spoiled, hell-raising son Junior Mister (Clint Johnson), who terrorizes everyone from the domestic servants to other socialites. Mr. Mister pressures the editor of the newspaper, Editor Daily (Ian Hoch), to create a job for Junior Mister, and they agree that a correspondent's position in Hawaii would be a good post, which hilariously concludes with the song “Honolulu.”
Mr. Mister's socialite wife Mrs. Mister (Amy Alvarez) supports local painters and musicians, and a scene about the rich and their demands is a platform for three of the cast's best vocalists, Alvarez, Johnson and Rahim Glaspy in the tunes “The Rich,” “Ask Us Again” and “Art for Arts Sake.”
It's not a musical in the sense of being full of big, glitzy dance numbers, but director Andrew Vaught keeps the action swirling through the aisles as the audience surrounds the action at Mariny Opera House. Brian Hsu provides musical accompaniment on piano.
Mrs. Mister also patronizes Reverend Salvation (David Huynh) and his church, and the Misters lean on him to promote political positions from the pulpit. Patronage gets uglier in the case of the doctor (Dylan Hunter). When Mr. Mister discovers the doctor is treating a worker who has been hurt at the factory, he visits the doctor and suggests that it would be best if the doctor attributed the accident to drunkenness.
Not many of the striking workers appear in the story, but late in the show, Larry Foreman (Monica Harris) arrives in coveralls, and she doesn't just give voice to the movement, she thunders about the power of people working together. In a show that's mostly entertaining and a bit cartoonish in its conjuring of capitalist overlord Mr. Mister, its a stirring moment. But Mr. Mister believes Foreman also can be brought.
Many of the townspeople face hard decisions about what they'll do for money or comfort, and unrest brews as workers organize, giving the conflict a feel of greater importance as the whole town becomes involved. The show has a social conscience framework, but its drama stems from the individual conscience choices of its characters and its an engaging look at what stirs them.
Through Aug. 22
The Cradle Will Rock
8 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand St.
Cripple Creek Theatre