The creators of the Reprise! series of semi-staged musicals pride themselves on reviving shows that have pretty much dropped from the public consciousness. So it's hard to fathom what prompted their production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "Die Dreigroschenoper" -- known as "The Threepenny Opera" in Marc Blitzstein's frequently revived English adaptation.

The creators of the Reprise! series of semi-staged musicals pride themselves on reviving shows that have pretty much dropped from the public consciousness. So it’s hard to fathom what prompted their production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “Die Dreigroschenoper” — known as “The Threepenny Opera” in Marc Blitzstein’s frequently revived English adaptation. In fact, Blitzstein’s “Threepenny” has enjoyed no end of public recognition since its Greenwich Village premiere in 1954 and its Off Broadway run from 1955 through ’61. Unfortunately, the show’s popularity only makes this ill-conceived Reprise! mounting less defensible.

Reprise! productions are by nature shoestring efforts hurriedly rehearsed, so begrudging the actors for being “on book” isn’t the issue. But there’s a difference between a game attempt at mastering a musical gem despite limited resources, and this production. Miscast players read lines from scripts as though for the first time, and routinely forget lyrics to well-known songs. The effect is painful.

Watching Theodore Bikel (Broadway’s original Capt. von Trapp and an exceptionally durable Tevye) as J.J. Peachum standing mute and dazed while the orchestra plays a tune he should be singing is sad, and Marilynn Lovell’s Mrs. Peachum isn’t any better.

Patrick Cassidy is well-prepared as the charming Macheath (a.k.a. Mack the Knife), but there’s no menace to his portrayal — something of a problem when the character is a thief, bigamist and killer. Marguerite MacIntyre’s Polly Peachum is suitably coy, but where’s her sparkle?

Though Jonelle Allen, as Jenny, gets one of the evening’s best numbers (“Pirate Jenny”), she does little with it, save strike Fosse-esque poses. Only Carrie Hamilton’s Lucy Brown evinces the grit essential for a show like this one, though Ken Page brings welcome gravity and a rich voice to the role of the Street Singer, the show’s narrator.

As Brecht and Weill never intended naturalism to intrude on their project, director Glenn Casale could pretty much interpret as he pleased. Sadly, he’s selected a generic Edwardian sensibility for the show. Even the estimable Peter Matz, who’s conducted every Reprise! show thus far, disappoints, rushing the show’s small orchestra though Weill’s pithy, ironic score.

Tech credits are adequate, with Bradley Kaye’s sets (an archway and some stairs) functional, and David R. Zyla’s costumes lending some flair to otherwise drab proceedings.

Reprise! started so well with “Promises, Promises” last season that it’s hard to conceive how standards have fallen. If the series is to survive, it must do better than its recent efforts if patrons are expected to pay from $45-$50 for shows. No one expects Broadway standards, but a certain professionalism must be maintained. Lovers of musical theater have every right to expect that Reprise! can rise to the occasion.

The Threepenny Opera

Freud Playhouse, UCLA; 578 seats; $50 top

Production

A Reprise! presentation of the musical in two acts, with music by Kurt Weill, book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein. Directed by Glenn Casale.

Creative

Musical direction, Peter Matz; choreography, Kay Cole; sets, Bradley Kaye; costumes, David R. Zyla; lighting, Tom Ruzika; sound, Jon Gottlieb and Philip G. Allen; orchestrations, Weill; stage manager, Meredith J. Greenburg. Opened Sept. 9, 1998. Reviewed Sept. 11. Closes Sept. 20. Running time: 2 HOURS, 30 MIN.

Cast

A Street Singer - Ken Page Mr. J.J. Peachum - Theodore Bikel Mrs. Peachum - Marilynn Lovell Filch - Jeremy Lawrence Polly Peachum - Marguerite MacIntyre Macheath (Mack the Knife) - Patrick Cassidy Jenny - Jonelle Allen Reverend Kimball - Hal Robinson Tiger Brown (Commissioner of Police) - George McDaniel Smith (Warden) - Hal Robinson Lucy Brown - Carrie Hamilton Readymoney Matt - Michael G. Hawkins Crookfinger Jake - Philip Watt Bob the Saw - Sean Smith Walt Dreary - Matthew Kimbrough Betty - Karon Kearney Dolly - Laura Soltis Molly - Mary Jo Mecca Constable - Jeremy Lawrence
Cops, Beggars, Street People: Eric Cajiuat, Beth Curry, Jessica Loofbourrow, Tom McMahon, Dana Reynolds.
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