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'The Cradle Will Rock' gets spicy revival from Iron Crow Theatre

A scene from Iron Crow Theatre's production of "The Cradle Will Rock."
A scene from Iron Crow Theatre's production of "The Cradle Will Rock." (Rob Clatterbuck)

The back story of Marc Blitzstein's "The Cradle Will Rock" — the government's shut down of the theater to prevent the New York premiere; the cast trekking uptown to another venue so the show could go on; the ensuing embellishments and legends about the whole business — will always make for fascinating re-telling.

So fascinating that, these days, many folks know that history more than the actual "play in music in ten scenes," as Blitzstein termed it.

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Iron Crow Theatre offers an opportunity to be reminded of what the fuss was all about, and to experience how relevant and stinging "The Cradle Will Rock" — a bold anti-monopoly, union-boosting treatise in the Weill/Brecht mold — remains 80 years after its troubled beginning.

So relevant that this spicy production doesn't need the video screens that periodically flash images of recent events and newsmakers. Otherwise, the ambitious staging at Theatre Project is impressively served by a sleek set (Chris Miller), imaginative lighting (Janine Vreatt) and spot-on costumes (Matthew Smith).

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The direction by Sean Elias is propulsive and often clever, making full use ot the space, including the seating area. The cast is uniformly connected to the work's heart, if not entirely consistent in vocal or dramatic skills.

More problematic, to my ears, is the uneven playing by music director Mandee Ferrier Roberts (the night I attended, articulation and tempos were frequently fuzzy).

I don't mind hearing a keyboard-only version of the score, even on a not-exactly-pristine instrument, as is the case here. That's more or less how Blitzstein performed it at the makeshift premiere, and it's certainly less expensive than opting for his orchestration. But such quirky, edgy music needs to snap and crackle expertly at every turn; it could use nuance ot tone and dynamics, too.

That said, the spirit of the piece certainly emerges, especially when Terrance Fleming jumps into the picture, giving extra bite to his lines as Larry Foreman, the union organizer who threatens the security of those controlling every aspect of life in not-really-so-fictional Steeltown.

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Allison Bradbury, as Mrs. Mister, wife of devious corporate bigwig Mr. Mister (Greg Grenier), is taxed by the singing demands, but otherwise shines brightly. She's delectable in the brilliant scene skewering commercialism in art (I'll always love the bit about Mrs. Mister's car horn blaring the a theme from Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture.)

That scene also brings out the best in Patrick Gorirossi, as the flaming violinist Yasha, and Eduard van Osterom, as the equally colorful painter Dauber. Both actors are quite the charmers, quite the hams. (They're roles characters are given the full gay treatment here, which I suspect Blitzstein would have loved).

From the wonderfully wacky "Honolulu" song to the rousing ensemble numbers (bracingly staged here), "The Cradle Will Rock" remains a music theater gem. It's great that Iron Crow is giving it such thoughtful attention.

If you go

"The Cradle Will Rock" runs through Sunday at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. Tickets are $15 to $30. Call 410-752-8558, or go to theatreproject.org.

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