Review: ‘The Three Penny Opera’

Nearly 70 years after its debut, "The Threepenny Opera" retains its cunning lethal edge, its cynical social commentary and, best of all, Kurt Weill's trenchant and melodic score. The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary with the North American premiere of a new translation by Robert David MacDonald, initially presented at London's Donmar Warehouse in 1994. The adaptation offers a swifter narrative, bluntly focused and accessible in terms of characterization.

Nearly 70 years after its debut, “The Threepenny Opera” retains its cunning lethal edge, its cynical social commentary and, best of all, Kurt Weill’s trenchant and melodic score. The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival celebrates its 35th anniversary with the North American premiere of a new translation by Robert David MacDonald, initially presented at London’s Donmar Warehouse in 1994. The adaptation offers a swifter narrative, bluntly focused and accessible in terms of characterization.

The real asset here is the imaginative contemporary staging. Director Paul Mullins makes the descent into a visually cold and surreal underworld, where yellow police tape marks the scene of a murder and master criminals use laptop computers. Brawls are staged in stealthy slow motion, and the viewer feels threatened by the steely glare of silent beggars, whores and cutthroats.

Adapting to the vast stage of a new performing arts center and former movie palace, while the festival awaits next season’s remodeled home on the campus of Drew U. in Madison, designer P.K. Wish has devised a stylized set incorporating rolling towers of pipes, planks and canvas drops, which reach high above and deep into ominous shadows. Imagery from Warhol posters and miniskirted hookers update the sordid atmosphere of the Weill-

Brecht landscape.

The players make a surly band of rogues and strumpets, effectively gritty, and all sing with potent conviction. Stephen Lee Anderson is an imposing Macheath. Balding and brooding, he governs his misfits with icy authority. Kristie Dale Sanders seems a touch too well-scrubbed as his bride, Polly Peachum , but delivers “Pirate Jenny” atop a wedding banquet table with plenty of urgency and spunk. The beggar king Peachum is properly unsavory and avaricious as acted by Ron Lee Savin, as is his plumpish, wide-eyed and tipsy wife (Debbie Lee Jones). Best is Gayton Scott as Jenny Diver, the bitter and vengeful moll who betrays Mack. She captures the sardonic bite of corruption with “The Song of Solomon.”

Before getting his throat neatly sliced, Joshua Finkel’s street singer sings the exploits of “Mack, the Knife,” with a voice of impending doom. The musical accompaniment captures the tinny, syncopated sound of Soho street music most accurately, proving that ol’ Mackie and Kurt Weill are back in town and most welcome.

The Three Penny Opera

Production

MORRISTOWN, N.J. A New Jersey Shakespeare Festival presentation of a musical in three acts, music by Kurt Weill, book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, translation by Robert David MacDonald. Directed by Paul Mullins.

Crew

Set, P.K. Wish; costumes, Amela Baksic; lighting, Michael Giannitti; musical direction, Rick Knutsen; choreography, John Evans; stage manager, Gretchen A. Knowlton. Artistic director, Bonnie J. Monte. Opened July 12, 1997, at the Community Theater. Reviewed July 16; 500 seats; $ 35 top. Running time 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.

With

Cast: Joshua Finkel (Streetsinger/Rev. Kimball), Stephen Lee Anderson (Macheath), Gayton Scott (Jenny Diver), Ron Lee Savin (Jonathan Peachum), Clark S. Carmichael (Charles Filch/Jimmy), Debbie Lee Jones (Celia Peachum), Joe Roseto (Matt), Kristie Dale Sanders (Polly Peachum), Jeff Applegate (Jake), Don Meehan (Bob/Constable), Michael Criscuolo (Ned), Bret Mosley (Walt/ Smith), Kurt Ziskie (Tiger Brown), Kate Ward (Nelly), Kathleen Connolly (Vixen), Danielle Duvall (Betty), Dee Billia (Kitty), Kimberly Kay (Lucy Brown), Todd Ross (Messenger).
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety

Loading