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Theater Review: 'The Cradle Will Rock' -- 3 stars

Danny Burstein in “The Cradle Will Rock”

Danny Burstein in “The Cradle Will Rock” Credit: Danny Burstein in “The Cradle Will Rock”

The Cradle Will Rock
3 stars

Although the saga of the legendary opening night of “The Cradle Will Rock” is familiar to most theater buffs, few have actually seen a production of this daring but difficult musical, which is now being presented as part of City Center’s new “Encores! Off-Center” series dedicated to Off-Broadway musicals.

Although “The Cradle Will Rock” was not technically an Off-Broadway musical by contemporary standards, it represents the more challenging musicals that would eventually premiere there.

Mark Blitzstein’s allegorical, pro-union musical was originally produced in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration and directed by Orson Welles.

When the government called off opening night, most likely due to political pressure over the musical’s leftist content, another theater was rented by the creative team and the show was performed with Blitzstein alone on piano and the actors situated throughout the audience.

The show revolves around a delayed confrontation between Mr. Mister, an arch plutocrat who controls every facet of Steeltown, USA, and Larry Foreman, who dares to organize the local workers into a union.

While a revival might have been more welcome two years ago at the height of Occupy Wall Street, it remains eerily relevant.

“The Cradle Will Rock” is presented without scenic design, elaborate costumes or even body microphones, but it is done with a new 14-piece orchestration.

The excellent cast includes Raul Esparza, who leaps into the role of Foreman with intensity; Anika Noni Rose, who is touching as the prostitute Moll; and Danny Burstein, who makes for a sinister Mr. Mister.

“The Cradle Will Rock” plays at City Center through Saturday. West 55th St. between Sixth and Seventh Ave., 212-581-1212,

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