The film Cradle Will Rock features prominently the opera by Marc Blitzstein of the same name. That opera is an interesting piece in its own right. Though at times its pro-union social message is rammed a little bit too far down the audience's throat, it is a sometimes funny, sometimes moving, and always interesting show. Its score is pretty good too, full of ballads intended to be performed by vocalists and a lone pianist. When considered with its production history (as chronicled in the Tim Robbins film), its relevance as a piece of history is clear. It also has a current relevance, for although unions are more accepted now than in the 1930s (at least in the US), the idea that society's institutions could be bought with corporate money is frighteningly real.
The play takes place in "Steeltown
The major characters are:
The Moll, a destitute hooker with a heart of gold
Larry Foreman, the union organizer
Mr. Mister, the steel boss, who manipulates the town through its most trusted institutions (see Liberty Committee)
Mrs. Mister, his wife, who helps her husband with the aforementioned manipulations
Harry Druggist, a former druggist, now a vagrant.
The Liberty Committee, consisting of
Reverend Salvation, a preacher
Editor Daily, the newspaper editor
Dauber, a painter
Yasha, a violinist
President Prexy, president of the local college
Professor Mamie, a very academic professor
Professor Trixie, the college football coach
Dr. Specialist, a physician
Other denizens of Steeltown play more minor roles: police, workers, Mr. Mister's children, etc.
As you can tell from the characters' names, the play is highly symbolic, and characters are more representations of types than three-dimensional figures. The play lends itself to a Brechtian interpretation, in which little illusion of a distinct reality among characters on the stage is attempted.
A brief synopsis: The Moll is taken into the Steeltown Nightcourt after resisting a sleazy undercover cop's advances. Simultaneously, the Liberty Committee is brought in because they, under Mr. Mister's orders, had been listening to Larry Foreman's pro-union speech. They protest that they're arrest was a mistake and that they are too high class to be kept behind the bar in the filthy Nightcourt. But the drunk, yet somewhat omnipotent, Druggist (who is in the Nightcourt for vagrancy), explains to the Moll how each Committee member is more of a prostitute than she. We see flashbacks of each Committee member selling out to Mr. or Mrs. Mister and realize how the town came to be in Mr. Mister's clutches. But as all this occurs in the Nightcourt, outside a union rally has been happening. Larry Foreman was hauled into the court as well, but he warns the Liberty Committee that the justice of the people is coming. When Mr. Mister arrives to bail out his Committee, the final confrontation between union ideals and the corruption of money occurs.