In our current era of cynicism toward the Establishment, spurred on by economic chaos, the timing couldn't be better for a revival of Marc Blitzstein's watershed musical, a once-censored Depression-era masterpiece in the Bertolt Brecht–Kurt Weill vein. This timelessly scathing satire brilliantly comments on the battle between callous bureaucrats and courageous fed-up workers who were pioneers in demanding effective labor unions. Under Daniel Henning's inspired direction, this revisit to an iconic show, first revived by Blank Theatre in 1994, is startling and darkly hilarious.
The setting is fictional Steeltown, USA, an archetypal industrial community, in 1937. Representative of the crassly self-serving upper class, businessman Mr. Mister (Peter Van Norden) attempts to suppress the protesting laborers' concerns, while the inefficient police department only makes matters worse. The unnerving sounds of Blitzstein's dissonant score, combined with stylized movements and bizarre character interaction, qualify this as a distinctly unconventional musical. It won't appeal to those whose tastes don't extend beyond "The Sound of Music," craving spiritual uplift and hummable ditties. Yet its trenchant wit and powerful blend of agitprop drama and sardonic sendup give the piece an up-to-the-minute resonance, as well as historical significance.
The design team impeccably creates a triumph of mood: Kurt Boetcher's beautifully effective minimalist set; JC Gafford's nightmarish lighting; and Naila Aladdin Sanders' wonderfully authentic-looking costumes. The smart, idiosyncratic score seems perfectly suited to the edgy narrative and eccentric characters, underlining the tension of the piece and enhanced here by David O's masterful music direction and accompaniment.
The gifted cast includes particularly fine turns by Van Norden as the despicable entrepreneur, Rex Smith as hard-driving activist Larry Foreman, Gigi Bermingham as the regal Mrs. Mister, and Tiffany C. Adams as a beleaguered prostitute. Also sublime as the coterie of babbling hypocrites opposing unionization are Christopher Carroll as Reverend Salvation, David Trice as Editor Daily, and Matthew Patrick Davis as President Prexy, among others. In support, Will Barker stands out in multiple roles, as do Meagan Smith and Adam Wylie as Mr. Mister's hyperactive, rotten children and Lowe Taylor as fearless activist Ella Hammer. Other members of the large ensemble likewise do splendid work in Henning's mesmerizing production.
Presented by the Blank Theatre Company at the Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Feb. 12–Mar. 20. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (323) 661-9827. www.theblank.com .