We are in Memphis in the late sixties, during the sanitation workers' strike. Though various civil rights laws have passed, nothing has changed for the local workers yelling "We are men, not slaves!" from the picket line. It's a fraught and angry scene, but Gone Rogue Productions keeps things relatable with the introduction of songs and understated, effective choreography.
The musical profiles a range of people affected by the strike and at the mercy of the period's social and political injustices. Key to the drama is Charles Cooper, Jr. (aka CJ), a young man whose father is dying needlessly, unable to pay for his high cost care. Allowing his judgement to blur, CJ steals from local shops to pay for his father's treatment, ending up in prison with a black man who, coincidentally, helped CJ's sister to safety during a dangerous riot.
The pair bond in prison – soul mates as well as cell mates in the face of adversity – and sing to each other about their plights. The number is compellingly staged, one of the strongest moments in the show - it's just a shame that the rest of the score doesn't share the same potency.
The Craft of the Cooper is undeniably watchable, but too much time is spent on plotting at the expense of character development and it's hard to empathise as a result. Even so, this is a important tale, passionately told.