This past weekend, Tohill theater was transported back to the labor movement of the 1930’s in the musical “The Cradle Will Rock,” presented by the Rowan University’s Department of Theatre & Dance with director Christopher Roche. The show opened in a gritty, gray bricked room of a night court, designed by Dirk Durossette, as actors ran across the set with props and costumes. Despite being commissioned by the government during the Great Depression, “The Cradle Will Rock” was shut down due to its political themes, but was performed in protest at another theater.
The opening is set in Steeltown, USA during the night of the labor riot. Moll (Juliet Gallagher) and Harry Druggist (Nick Flagg) were stuck in jail with the Liberty Committee, a group of prominent, and anti-union, citizens of Steeltown. The Liberty Committee, like local clergy Reverend Salvation (Sara Rabatin) and head of the newspaper Editor Daly (Ryan Washington), were portrayed with exaggerated gestures and acting that created humorous caricatures of the public figures they represented. In particular, Professor Trixie (Robin Purtell), a college football coach, got a lot of laughs as she ran hunched over like a football player every time she moved.
Another pair of characters that stole the show were Junior Mister (Alex Brown) and Sister Mister (Tori Tatulli) in their duet “Croon-Spoon.” Junior Mister was rolled out on a stretcher, lounging in kiddish overalls and a spinner hat while playing with a yo-yo. Sister Mister bursts onto stage with an outrageous bow and lollipop. The childish costumes, designed by Natalia de la Torre, added to the humor of a song about the shanghaies of two bored, rich kids.
Aside from laughs, the show’s directing kept “The Cradle Will Rock” relevant to today’s political atmosphere. Mr. Mister (Nathan Benson), in one monologue about buying firearms for college military training, clearly took inspiration from President Trump with his mannerism and inflection. Other characters in the pocket of Mr. Mister, like Reverend Salvation stirring up pro-war sentiment for donations, was all too familiar in an age where lobbyists are buying out politicians left and right.
Most impactful was the show’s climactic titular theme, sung by a crowd of protesters fed up with the corruption and greed of Mr. Mister and his Liberty Committee. The cast, accompanied by musical director Corey Everly, delivered the song with power and emotion. With humorous and earnest performances, “The Cradle Will Rock” reminded audiences to not let history repeat itself again.
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