“The Cradle Will Rock,” a fantastically produced show put on by University Theater, managed to carry a comedic tone while still addressing the serious theme of the fall of Wall Street during the Great Depression. The story takes place during the late 1930s in Steeltown, USA. It jumps between the present and past lives of those in the justly named “Liberty Committee,” the Committee’s leader, Mr. Mister, and those who are affected by Mister’s great wealth and power—beginning with Moll, the “hooker with the heart of gold,” who’s just trying to make a decent living in hard times.
Her soliloquy begins through song, lamenting over her failed efforts to make ends meet. As a stranger pursues Moll late one evening, a police officer steps in and arrests her for selling herself. Despite her complaints that she is just trying to survive, the officer persists and takes her into the station.
Once at the police station, we are introduced to the members of the Liberty Committee, a group of citizens working under Mr. Mister in the fight against “The Union.” Police accidentally mistook the Liberty Committee as unsavory union organizers and wrongfully arrested them. From the night court on, we learn about how each member of the Liberty Committee came to be in their present situation.
The members of the Liberty Committee, various citizens pulled into their situation by greed and necessity to survive in harsh times, all come from different backgrounds. Their unique stories are shared through flashbacks and musical numbers. Some artists, some educators and some religious leaders are torn between their opinions on the formation of unions (among other social issues of the period) and their personal greed to be on the top of the societal hierarchy. Along the way, the show also highlights the lives of those around Mr. Mister and his business, including the Druggist, a former pharmacy owner still mourning his past betrayal by Larry Forman, a union leader.
The enthusiasm of the characters is what makes the show. The subject matter can be a bit confusing and almost bland at times purely because the story jumps back and forth so much, but the energy and excitement of each cast member keeps the stage alive and kicking throughout the show. Both main protagonists and select members of the Liberty Committee ensemble deliver notable performances.
Moll, portrayed by Morgan Boland, sings her sweet heart out with curiosity, sadness and empathy specific to each situation. Her strong vocals and conviction as a character make for an incredible opening scene. Junior, Mr. Mister’s son, portrayed by August Wesley, surprises with an exhilarating and hilarious performance midway through the show in “Croon-Spoon,” along with Victoria Kemnetz as Sister Mister. While the vocals were not exceptional in this number, the characterizations of Sister and Junior made up for them and created a wildly entertaining scene.
Two more incredible performances come from Yasha, played by Eva Nimmer, and Haley Kosup-Kennedy’s character Dauber. They share a background scene depicting their inclusion in the Liberty Committee. Amid the transition from the characters hating each other to working together on behalf of Mrs. Mister, the sensational mix of vocals and comedic choreography made the performance incredibly intriguing and enjoyable to watch.
“Cradle” does a great job at combining individual stories with a collective identity. The Liberty Committee functions as a brilliant take on the classic show ensemble. Everyone has their own story to tell, but this isn’t apparent right off the bat. The dialogue between characters is witty, sarcastic and comedic, but doesn’t fail to highlight the main conflict of the tale—the battle between unions and big business, a war that continues today. The only mildly imperfect piece of the show lies in the passage of time. While each scene is set and narrated at the start, it is still a bit confusing to know exactly where the story is in time before the current setting of the night court.
Overall, “The Cradle Will Rock” absolutely lives up to its high standards. The cast, the script and the music all come together to create a witty show commenting on society and business. “Cradle” is playing at University Theater Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through Dec. 8th.