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A CurtainUp Review
The Threepenny Opera

So Listen Closely To Mack The Knife.
The Bulging Pocket Makes The Easy Life.
Now Once I Used To Think It Might Be Worthy
To Be A Brave And Sacrificing Person.
I Soon Found Out It Wasn't Reimbursin'
Decided To Continue Being Earthy.
The Noble Poor Are Nobly Underfed
— MacHeath, "The Easy Life"
3 Penny
Laura Osnes and Michael Park
Since its 1928 premiere The Threepenny Opera, Bertold Brecht and Kurt Weill's mix of love story, Weimar cabaret and syncopated melodies, has exerted enormous influence on musical theater. The dissonant tone notwithstanding, "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" that opens the show has become an ear-clinging crowd pleaser throughout its many incarnations.

As Brecht and Weill adapted John Gay's Beggar's Opera, for their own satirical, anti-establishment objectives, so directors and performers have brought their own interpretations, some wonderful, some less so. Martha Clarke, best known for her stunningly original choreographed works like Garden of Earthly Delights (review ) and Vienna Lusthaus ( review), has gone all out to put her own stamp on the production now at the Atlantic Theater's main stage in Chelsea.

I'm happy to report that though shorter than any other Threepenny Opera I've seen this is a substantial and interesting piece— much closer to the imaginative works that have earned Clarke the reputation as a visionary artist than her recent Cheri ( review). Threepenny purists might take issue with Clarke's more painterly than overly edgy approach which conflates, re-arranges, re-names and re-assigns songs. But while not everything is perfection, there's enough here that's new and exciting. The distressing imbalance between our current society's haves and have-nots certainly makes this production more timely than ever.

Among the show's assets is a generously sized cast that includes 7 musicians and as many ensemble members— plus a four-legged performer named Romeo with impressive stage presence (my second such scene stealing cast member in two days, the other one in the new Broadway musical, Bullets Over Broadway).

3 Penny Opera
Mary Beth Peil and F. Murray Abraham as Mr. and Mrs. Peachum
There's much splendid singing and acting from the pivotal characters. Top honors go to the Peachums — with Murray Abraham (engagingly mercenary) and Mary Beth Peil (the Chicago Governor's mom in TV's The Good Wife) as the CEO and CFO of an enterprise that acts as the official profit sharing agency for beggars. Laura Osnes (last seen as Broadway's Cinderella) is their daughter Polly, and she and Peil singi gloriously. Peil brings a mesmerizing craftiness to Mrs. Peachum.

The staging underscores the relevance of characters and plot to today's world. The Peachum parents, like the unscrupulous Macheath who their daughter has married, have pushed their way into the exploitative one per cent with their less than honorable enterprise. To get Macheath out of daughter Polly's life, the Peachums are not above bribing the authorities and indulging in whatever other dirty tricks are needed.

Michael Park is an aptly dashing Macheath and a seasoned singer (He appeared in the initial production of Violet which is currently being revived on Broadway, just before staring his long-running gig as Jack Snyder in As the World Turns). His bowler hat, pin-striped suit and spats make it easy to see him turn from housebreaking to banking. Any wish for a bit more menace (which applies to the overall production), is easily forgotten when watching his slick "Tango Ballad" with Sally Murphy's Jenny and his solo "Ballad of the Easy Life". Lili Cooper, another of Macheath's stable of female conquests, makes the most of the two songs she's given— the dour "Ballad of the Drowned Girl" and the terrific "Jealousy Duet" with Osnes.

The look of the production is a dark and shadowy London just before Queen Victoria's coronation, with grisaille palette for both scenery and costumes. Touches of purple brighten the costumes. Some of the hookers' costumes might have you wonder if you've accidentally walked into the current revival of Cabaret (Alan Cumming who reprises his Emcee in that production played a quite different Macheath in the 2006 Threepenny Opera).

In an interview with himself in 1933, Brecht asked himself "What in your opinion accounted for the success of 'Die Dreigroschenoper' ('The Three Penny Opera'). He responded with "I'm afraid it was everything that didn't matter to me: the romantic plot, the love story, the music." He answered his follow-up question "And what would have mattered to you?" with "The critique of society." While Martha Clarke hasn't abandoned the music and love story, I think he would be pleased with the way she's handled the part that mattered most to him.

The Threepenny Opera
Book and lyrics: Bertoldt Brecht
Music: Kurt Weill
English adaptation by Marc Blitzstein
Directed and choreographed by Martha Clarke
Cast: F. Murray Abraham (Mr. Peachum), Jon David Casey (Street Singer/Filch), Lilli Cooper (Lucy Brown), Rick Holmes (Tiger Brown), Sally Murphy (Jenny), Mary Beth Peil (Mrs. Peachum), Laura Osnes (Polly Peachum), Michael Park (Macheath), Romeo (Queen Victoria). Sophie Bortolussi, Timothy Doyle, John Kelly, Lindsey Dietz Marchant Cristina Spina, John William Watkins (Ensemble)
Scenic design by Robert Israel
Costume design by Donna Zakowska
Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind
Sound design by Clive Goodwin
Musical direction by Gary Fagin
Animal training by William Berloni
Conductor: Fred Lassen
Stage Manager, Johnny Miloni
Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater 336 West 20th Street
From 3/12/14; opening 4/07/14; closing 5/04/14
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 6th press matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Ballad of Mac the Knife / Street Singers
  • Morning Anthen/ Mr. Peachum
  • Instead of Song/ Mr. & Mrs. Peachum
  • Love Song/ Macheath and Polly
  • Wedding Song/ Macheath and the Gang
  • Barbara Song/ Polly
  • Army Song/ Macheath, Brown and the Gang
  • Wedding Song (reprise)/ Macheath's Gang
  • Ballad of the Drowned Girl/Lucy
  • Ballad of Sexual Dependency/Mrs. Peachum
  • <
  • First Threpenny Finale/ Polly, Mr. & Mrs. Peachum
Act Two
  • Melodrama & Polly's Song/ Macheath and Polly
  • Ballad of Sexual Dependency (Reprise/Mrs. Peachum
  • Pirate Jenny/ Jenny
  • Tango Ballad / Macheath and Jenny
  • Ballad of the Easy Life/ Macheath
  • Jealousy Duet / Lucy and Polly
  • Second Three Penny Finale / Macheath,Polly, Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, Filch and Company
Act Three
  • Useless Song / Mr. Peachum
  • Solomon Song/Jenny
  • Call from the Grave #1 / Macheath
  • Call from the Grave #2 / Macheath
  • Death Message/ Macheath
  • Three Penny Opera Finale /Macheath, Polly, Mr. & Mrs. Peachum, Filch and Chorus
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