For L.A. Opera debut, director promises a radically unradical approach
John Doyle is not a one-trick director, and here in America he’s going to prove it with the Los Angeles Opera’s new production of “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,” which preems in February.Audra McDonald and Patti LuPone are skedded to headline as the prostitute Jenny and the madame Mrs. Begbick, respectively. But the big news in legit circles is Doyle’s involvement and exactly how he’ll reinvent Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s 1930 opera about an Old West town where pleasure and money rule and the inability to pay your bill can result in a death sentence. For his L.A. Opera debut, the director promises a radically unradical approach. “No one will be walking around onstage playing the tuba,” he says. “The orchestra will be firmly in the pit.” The British director, of course, is referring to his famously deconstructed productions of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” and “Company,” which do away with the pit and assign orchestra duties to the performers. “My re-creation there came out of necessity,” he says, and, indeed, his current “Sweeney” on Broadway, for which Doyle won a best director Tony, is one of the very few Sondheim productions ever to recoup. While much has been made of Doyle’s thesp-musician signature style, his “Sweeney” might best be remembered for offering a unique, if not downright hip, take on the demon barber and his pie-baking accomplice, Mrs. Lovett. “You could still find people who look like these characters in East London,” he claims, “as opposed to the Dickensian characters” that have informed every perf since Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury first essayed the serial killers in 1979. Doyle expects the 2007 population of “Mahagonny” will display similar contempo traits. Not that he’s updating the city to a Hollywood that Lindsay Lohan might recognize. “I don’t want to make it in people’s face, forcing that issue,” he insists. Similarly to his punkish Mrs. Lovett, Doyle prefers a more subtle entry into the Tinseltown zeitgeist. “The audience will sense they are watching a traditional Brechtian musical,” he says, “then gradually we will have modern influences that illuminate some of the elements of the story that still apply to us.”
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