A Most Dangerous Man
THE STORY OF WALTER REUTHER and AMERICAN LABOR
A MOST DANGEROUS MAN is a music-theatre work-in-progress about the 20th century American Labor movement told through the life story and work of Walter Reuther, longtime leader of the United Auto Workers. Inspired in part by the great “Detroit Industry” frescoes created by Diego Rivera, we envision using those images—juxtaposed with those of present day, post-industrial Detroit—as a central theatrical metaphor.
Walter Reuther was a singular figure in the American Labor movement and a leader of the UAW from the mid-1930’s onward.. His story is that of the American workers’ fight for dignity, economic justice and progressive ideals that form the core values of American democracy. A man of uncompromising integrity and commitment, Reuther was threatened and beaten; he survived a kidnapping attempt and a shooting. With equal fervor he fought determined anti-union factory managers and mob bosses, while surviving multiple internecine battles within the Labor movement itself. Unique among industrial labor leaders, Reuther took a strong and militant stand in favor of the Civil Rights movement and marched side by side with Martin Luther King at Selma.
By the early 1960’s Reuther’s position and that of the UAW had become almost unassailable. But with successful growth came the inevitable calcifying effect of institutionalization and bureaucratization, the irresistible lure of a seat at the table in the rooms of power and privilege. Walter Reuther’s crisis of conscience, the dramatic fulcrum of his life —and that of our proposed Music-Theatre piece as well—comes in the tumultuous days of March-August 1968, from LBJ’s stunning announcement not to run for a second term, to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to the murder of Robert F. Kennedy, culminating in the Chicago Democratic National Convention and the “Days of Rage.” These were the times that challenged Reuther to recommit himself to the fundamental values that had shaped his life. This story is ripe with opportunities for musical-theatrical expression.
The energy of the laborers, the dynamics of collective action, the rhythmic pulse of the factory, the electric tension of the strike and the specific high and low points of Reuther’s personal life—all these inspire powerful and evocative musical ideas. We envision a musical journey that contrasts the power and simplicity of the great labor songs of the early 20th Century with the complexity and drive of the factory, the dissonance and tension of the greater struggle. Intimate moments from Reuther’s life will balance grand ensemble moments.