Eisa Davis and The Cradle Will Rock — perfect together

cradleI saw the premiere
performance of the new Encores!
Off-Center
reading of The Cradle Will Rock at New York
City Center on Wednesday night. I didn’t spend a lot of time
analyzing casting decisions or reading up on this production. I
knew Anika Noni Rose,
Raúl Esparza and Danny
Burstein
were in key roles, but aside from that,
avoided reading about it. It was an effort to preserve an element of surprise. And
given that I’ve been spending som much time at Maxwell’s and other
rock events, there really wasn’t time. So what a pleasant
surprise when the curtain opened and there, front and
center, was Eisa Davis. It seemed
almost too perfect that an actor with a radical heritage (she’s a
niece of activist Angela
Davis
, a relationship Eisa explored in her
play Angela’s Mixtape) performing in a show
about union-busting and based on the timeless us-versus-them theme.
(Many theatergoers were introduced to Eisa through the Tony
Award-winning musical Passing
Strange
.)

Eisa Davis

Eisa Davis

How
perfect to see Eisa in the multiple roles of Dr. Specialist (who
sells out to the “big man”), the Clerk in night court and Professor
Scoot (one of the few characters to exhibit some principles). The
1937 musical is a deliberate cartoon — a greed screed, if you will
— that illustrates the timeless struggle. It was written by Marc
Blitzstein
(a frequent collaborator with and translator
for Kurt
Weill
), produced by Orson Wells and has a long and
controversial history. It was shut down during rehearsals by the
Works Progress Administration, which commissioned it and then got
cold feet. The cast marched uptown to another theater and, with
only Blitzstein on the piano, was performed by actors in the
audience — a rather dramatic scene depicted in the
1999 Tim Robbins movie Cradle
Will Rock
. The music is richly conceived and
orchestrated and directed with a nice ear by Sam
Gold
. The concert reading, with a lush,
full orchestra conducted by Encores! Music
Director Chris Fenwick, is well
sung, entertaining and compelling. It runs under two hours with no
intermission and will leave you wanting more. You have only a few
more chances to see this great show, as its run ends Saturday, July
13.

What you need to know before you go

The
Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein. Encores! Off-Center, New York
City Center, 131 West 55th Street, New York, N.Y. Performances are
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. The
majority of tickets are just $25, while the remainder are $90 or
$110 and available by clicking
here
. As of Thursday, tickets were available for all
remaining performances.

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