21 blocks: Benedetti honors the origins of production

Opera theater

August 27 — The Cradle Will Rock is a Labor Depression opera about capitalism and corporate corruption. Larry Foreman is fighting to organize workers in “Steeltown, USA” and is opposed to the greedy tycoon Mr. Mister, who controls the factory, the press and the church. Written by Marc Blitzstein, The Cradle Will Rock was scheduled to open on Broadway in 1937, as part of the New Deal’s Federal Theater Project, directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman. But its borderline pro-union and socialist themes were so controversial that opening night was closed on just four days’ notice. What happened next instantly became part of the Broadway legend.

“The preview performance was already sold out,” said Robert Benedetti, who runs The Cradle Will Rock at the New Mexico Actors Lab – his fifth time with the material. “The Federal Marshals showed up and barricaded the theater so they couldn’t take the props, costumes or even the music itself out of the building. Everything was declared government property. The actors took to the streets. and kept people entertained for a while while Welles and Houseman found another venue. “

The enthusiastic crowd marched 21 blocks to Broadway, from the Maxine Elliott Theater to the much larger Venice Theater, gathering more audiences as they went. People were invited to the streets to see the show for free. In an ironic twist – given the plot of the play – the Musicians ‘Union and the Actors’ Equity Association both found reasons to ban their members from performing in a new venue. But Blitzstein was a free agent. So he started the performance by singing alone on a rented piano on an empty stage. He had planned to do the whole play on his own. And then, one by one, the actors played their roles from their seats in the auditorium.

“That’s pretty much how the show has been done ever since,” says Benedetti. “That’s how I’ve always done it. We start outside the theater with a prologue that explains the first opening night and a few songs by Woody Guthrie. The cast and audience then symbolically enter the empty theater, and the actors start the performance from the audience. “

The Cradle Will Rock will open at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 2 at the New Mexico Actors Lab (1213 Parkway Dr.). Performances continue until September 19; 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Face covers are mandatory. Tickets cost $ 25. 505-395-6576, nmactorslab.com

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