LP0107. THE CRADLE WILL ROCK, Marc Blitzstein’s Original 1937 Mercury Theater Production, Directed by Orson Wells. Marc Blitzstein, piano; with Olive Stanton, Charles Niedmeyer, Peggy Coudray, Maynard Holmes, Bert Weston, Ralph MacBane, Dulce Fox, Ralph MacBane, Howard Bird, John Adair, George Fairchild, Marian Rudley, Edward Fuller, Jules Schmidt, Jules Schmidt, Howard Da Silva, Blanche Collins, Frank Marvel. Original LP limited edition, hand-stamped w/individual number. American Legacy T 1001, mono [from 1938 shellac 78rpm disks]. (Limited Edition of 1000, this being #652). The very first original cast recording made. This limited edition was released in 1974, and is now very rare; (fine gatefold sleeve with 4 pages of notes, discography, playbills and photos).
“When Marc Blitzstein’ 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 idea of THE CRADLE WILL ROCK had been suggested to Blitzstein 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. 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. 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 Air Force for the duration of World War II.”
- LEC, Masterworks Broadway
"The piece is almost entirely sung-through, giving it many operatic qualities, although Blitzstein included popular song styles of the time. The original cast consisted of John Adair, Guido Alexander, Marc Blitzstein, Peggy Coudray, Howard Da Silva, George Fairchild, Robert Fransworth, Edward Fuller, Will Geer, Maynard Holmes, Frank Marvel, Charles Niemeyer, Le Roi Operti, Jules Schmidt, George Smithfield, Olive Stanton, and Bert Weston.
THE CRADLE WILL ROCK was reprised January–April 1938 as part of the first season of the Mercury Theatre, an independent repertory company founded by Welles and Houseman. An abridged version of the production was recorded and released in 1938, the first original cast recording ever made.
The New Century Theatre was a legitimate Broadway theatre located at 932 Seventh Avenue at West 58th Street in midtown Manhattan.
The house, which seated 1,700, was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp for the Shuberts, who originally named it Jolson's 59th Street Theatre after Al Jolson, who opened the venue with a Sigmund Romberg musical called Bombo on October 6, 1921. Two years later, it hosted the American premiere of Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre.
The theatre underwent several name changes over the next several years. As the Central Park Theatre, it was operated as a movie house. It then became the Shakespeare Theatre, the Molly Picon Theatre, the Venice Theatre, and twice reverted to Jolson Theatre, honoring Jolson, before finally being refurbished and reopened as the New Century on April 8, 1944.
Its place in theatrical history was established in 1937 when Orson Welles and his Federal Theatre Project troupe marched their production of THE CRADLE WILL ROCK into what was then called the Venice Theatre and performed the musical from seats in the audience in defiance of Actors Equity.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, NBC used the New Century for live television programs performed before a studio audience. The theatre was shuttered in 1954 and demolished in 1962."