PE0048. A BLITZSTEIN CABARET - Theatre Works. Helene Williams, Ronald Edwards. Premier Recordings 1005. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 718614100527
“’Marc Blitzstein’, said Orson Welles in 1984, ‘was almost a saint. He was so totally and serenely convinced of the Eden which was waiting for us all [on] the other side of the Revolution that there was no way of talking politics to him. He didn’t care who was in the Senate, or what Mr. Roosevelt said – [Roosevelt] was just the spokesman for the bourgeoisie! When he came into the room the lights got brighter. He was an engine, a rocket, directed in one direction which was his opera [THE CRADLE WILL ROCK] – which he almost believed had only to be performed to start the Revolution’.
The seeds of Blitzstein’s convictions were, if not planted, nurtured by his relationship with critic and novelist Eva Goldbeck (born in Berlin in 1901). They had met in Europe in 1928 and traveled extensively together, and he had dedicated his Romantic Piece for Orchestra and his String Quartet (both 1930) to her. Although they were both aware that he was homosexual, they were married on his twenty-eighth birthday in Philadelphia. Close friends probably viewed the arrangement as a marriage of convenience, but there is no doubt that their relationship was emotionally significant and intellectually nourishing to them both. Three years later, suffering from anorexia and breast cancer, Eva died suddenly. Blitzstein was devastated. To distract himself from grief and loneliness, he threw himself into the composition of an ‘opera’ – or musical – of political protest: THE CRADLE WILL ROCK. The idea had been suggested to him by Bertolt Brecht, and the notorious circumstances of the work’s premičre made Blitzstein’s name famous across the nation. Set in Steeltown, USA, ‘Cradle’ is an allegory of corporate greed and corruption, with union organizer Larry Foreman pitted against wicked owner Mr. Mister. The production was originally subsidized by the Federal Theatre Project, but at the last moment armed government agents surrounded New York’s Maxine Elliott Theatre, padlocked the doors, and impounded the costumes, scenery and props – even the leading man’s toupee. The ostensible reason for the shutdown was budget cuts, but it was almost universally believed that whoever was signing the checks objected to the left-leaning slant of the material. Without missing a beat, director Orson Welles, producer John Houseman, and Blitzstein rented a piano and the much larger Venice Theatre. Cast and audience marched through the streets from one theatre to the other, gathering more audience members (for free) along the way. Blitzstein narrated the entire piece from the piano, while cast members spoke and sang their parts from seats in the house, as they were not allowed by Equity rules to perform on stage. It was reported – by Archibald MacLeish, for one, who was there – to be one of the most moving theatrical experiences in memory.
Welles and Houseman, prompted by their triumph, went on to form The Mercury Theatre Company (which, in its radio incarnation, gave us THE WAR OF THE WORLDS). Under these new auspices, the production reopened at the Windsor Theatre in January 1938 and played a total of 108 performances. Soon after its Broadway run, students at Harvard, led by young Leonard Bernstein at the piano, staged their own production, and from that first encounter Blitzstein and Bernstein formed a friendship of tremendous musical and personal importance to them both. Blitzstein turned out two more political works, a radio play dedicated to Welles - I’VE GOT THE TUNE (1937) and a quasi-opera, NO FOR AN ANSWER (1941) – before joining the Army Air Force for the duration of World War II.”
- LEC, Masterworks Broadway