A Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Threepenny Opera"

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note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Larry Stark

"The Threepenny Opera"

Original Adaptation & Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
from Elisabeth Hauptman's German translation of
"The Beggar's Opera" by John Gay
Book Newly Translated into English by Robert MacDonald
Lyrics Newly Translated into English by Jeremy Sams
Music by Kurt Weill

Directed by Rick Lombardo
Musical Direction by Todd C. Gordon
Choreography by Kelli Edwards

Scenic Design by Peter Colao
Lighting Design by John John Ambrosone
Costume Design by Francis Nelson McSherry
Production Stage Manager Cheryl D. Olszowka
Assistant Stage Manager Mary Lauve

Pirate Jenny.............Leigh Barrett
Mr. Peachum............Paul D. Farwell
Filch/Ned...............Brian Robinson
Mrs. Peachum..........Nancy E. Carroll
Matt..................Tritano D. Evans
MacHeath.............Todd Alan Johnson
Polly Peachum.............Susan Molloy
Jake..................Robert Antonelli
Bob..............Stephen Marc Beaudoin
Jimmy..................Yaegel T. Welch
Walt/P.C. Smith.....Matthew J. Nichols
Betty/Rev. Kimball.....Britney Burgess
Tiger Brown...........Steven Barkhimer
Dolly....................Whitney Cohen
Vixen...................Mara Radulovic
Nelly...................Elizabeth Asti
Lucy Brown...........Stacey Cervellino


Reed 1.............Louis Toth
Reed 2...........Andy Bergman
Trumpet..........John Mahoney
Trombone.....Harlan Feinstein
Banjo, etc......Carl Phillips
Percussion........Scott Nason
Keyboard.......Todd C. Gordon

Better hurry. Everyone will soon be taking sides and talking about the new production of "The Threepenny Opera" out in Newton Highlands. Last year about this time Rick Lombardo and bis New Rep gave us a definitive "Sweeney Todd" but this January he and some of the same stars have put the shark's-teeth back into a classic --- an act that may get them complained about, if not raided. There's explicitly irreverent language, whores in scanties out of the H&M subway-posters, choreography that would make Bob Fosse blush, along with the dust and dirt and fog* of dear olde London Town. But if you've ever seen "Threepenny" here what could raise your hackles is Robert MacDonald's re-translation of the book, and Jeremy Sams' bleakly biting re-translation of the lyrics that drew blood back in the Berlin of Weimar. Bobby Darin it ain't!
(* Or is that smoke from a 'copter-strike in the next block?)

Lombardo begins the evening with his ragtag cast assembled --- alright, huddled --- sleeping in what may be a SoHo flophouse or the last safe-house in an occupied city. The lighting is filched from an illegal switch-box, the costumes are old Music-Hall (as are many of the turns and gestures and shtick), the style either self-consciously self-aware, or over-the-top theatrical. The company may be amusing themselves with a farce between police-raids, or sticking it to all the fat-cats across the footlights who could pay more than three cents for a show.

At the outset, the blood-spattered new lyrics for The Ballad, the melody of which is part of every audience's genes, gives steady-eyed, tooth-clenched evidence that, despite everything that is familiar, something totally new is happening on that stage. I mean --- MacHeath (Todd Alan Johnson) strangled a friend for his cufflinks and raped a pair of schoolgirls in Hampstead, and the blade of his "flick-knife" is as dangerous as either of Sweeney Todd's razors. Here it's Leigh Barrett's (Pirate Jenny's) song --- a litany of depravity and coldly cruel money-lust and mayhem. At the first few phrases the audience is on notice that, despite Kurt Weill, close attention must be paid to every syllable in these songs.

The basic roadmap of plot is the same as John Gay's original. The intrepid Sherriff Tiger Brown (Steven Barkheimer) breaks into MacHeath's wedding not to arrest all the trespassing thieves, but to wish Mackie --- his old army buddy and payer of protection --- well on this, his third excursion into bigamy. Peachum (Paul D. Farwell) outfits fake beggars for a cut of their take, while his Mrs. berates their daughter (Susan Molloy) for depriving the family of a "breadwinner" while MacHeath sings nostalgically of the joys of renting-out his first wife an an hourly rate. "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" explains how the denounced cut-throat cut-purse could be arrested not once, but twice, and everyone takes harsh delight in spitting in the eye of anyone rich enough to afford a clean shirt.

One of the really unsettling things about his first act, though, is Rick Lombardo's perverse refusal to allow the audience to appluad for any of the songs. Rather than ending with a flash-finish pose, they lose themselves in sudden attention to other business, or studiously mechanistic hand-claps from a cast still contemptuously scattered about the stage interfearing with knee-jerk reactions from the audience. Even more than the occasional blurt of a four-letter-word or the explicit flash of panties in a "love"-song, this denial of routine reactions forces spectators to re-evaluate their own role in the show.

If you have seen a production of this classic before, you will see that audience-friendly show with new eyes. And when Nancy E. Carroll pops up from a trash-dumpster clutching a gin-bottle to join Paul D. Farwell in old Music-Hall attitudinizing, your old familiar world will never be the same! And if you've never seen iut before, go --- and tell your grand-children about it.


"The Threepenny Opera" (7 January - 2 February)
54 Lincoln Street. NEWTON HIGHLANDS MA

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