Marc Blitzstein’s "The Cradle Will Rock" is a musical that universities ought to do. Its hard-edged, "Threepenny Opera"-ish score and heavy-handed pro-union sentiments make it the sort of celebrated work most local playhouses wouldn’t touch.
But Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s production is so laborious, it’s more likely to stifle rather than pique interest.
It’s easy to understand why. This 1937 sketch-laden allegory about the evils of capitalism requires a light playing style to bring out its wit, along with a "Grapes of Wrath" realism. Set in "Steeltown USA," the stories, speeches and song tell the tale of desperate down-and-out factory workers trying to band together for economic survival. The anti-union folk are mostly corrupt and stupid. The union organizers are heroes.
You don’t look for balance in a beautiful piece of flag-waving propaganda like this. And you have to allow for a certain amount of dated-ism. The score effortlessly blends styles, tones and harmonies while never slipping into a melodic mode that would rob the action of its dagger jolt.
Director Robert Benedetti and set designer Donald C. Roose III create a marvelous town-hall, circus-tent atmosphere that seems just the kind of place people would rally ’round in.
Benedetti puts you in the mood for this play. But the director doesn’t show much interest in coaching performances. The story demands a sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots.
What we get here is a stage full of well-scrubbed actors who sing nicely but apparently have little understanding of what they’re singing about. For all the emoting, there’s nary a whiff of poverty lurking in the air.
Since the actors fake the characters’ particulars through overstatement, we "get" the story within five minutes and wonder why the production goes on any longer. Benedetti’s come up with a concept, but he hasn’t given his concept heart.
That kind of laziness is all the more unfortunate when you consider the considerable talent of this 17-member cast. But no matter how talented one may be, it’s pretty tough to play concept.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.REVIEW
What: "The Cradle Will Rock"
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (through March 29)
Where: Black Box Theatre, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway
Tickets: $20-$30 (895-2787)