Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"The Threepenny Opera" at Atlantic Theater Company Off-Broadway

Prior to my annual theater week in NYC this year, I had never seen the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill ground-breaking opera The Threepenny Opera, and was unfamiliar with the music, except of course for the standard "Mack the Knife." But in a strange coincidence, I will see it twice in a little over a week - at the Atlantic Theater Company Off-Broadway in NYC as well as a production by Frank Theatre in Minneapolis. I'm happy to have the opportunity to see it twice; it's not an easily accessible piece of music-theater but it's worth the effort.

First produced in 1928 in Berlin, The Threepenny Opera tells the story of a criminal/mobster/thief named Macheath (aka Mack the Knife) in Victorian London. When Mack marries the daughter of his rival Mr. Peachum, head of the beggers, Mr. Peachum retaliates by trying to get Macheath arrested and hung. Despite Mack's many crimes, it's not an easy task since the police chief is Mack's buddy. But eventually, Mack is jailed and about to be hung when he's suddenly miraculously freed. The story is told through a series of vignettes and songs, with each character getting their moment to be heard.

Laura Osnes and Michael Park
The Threepenny Opera is gorgeously staged at the intimate Atlantic Theater Company stage in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC. The wonderful orchestra is placed in a little room at the back of the stage, alternately hidden and revealed by a drawn curtain. At the front of the stage is another curtain, but not a typical luxurious theater curtain, just canvas hanging on a wire that is opened and closed manually by the cast as the scene requires. Clutter resides on the edges of the mostly bare stage with furniture moved in when necessary - tables, chairs, a jail cell. The costumes are gorgeous, from the pristine finery on Mack and his bride Polly to the mismatched rags worn by the prostitutes Mack visits. (Set by Robert Israel and costumes by Donna Zakowska.)

This is a wonderful cast, including TV/film/stage vet F. Murray Abraham as Mr. Peachum and Mary Beth Peil as Mrs. Peachum (see also Follies). I was thrilled to see Michael Park as Macheath, since I've long been a fan of him on stage (his voice is on the original cast recordings of Smokey Joe’s Caf√© and Violet, and I saw him in How to Succeed a few years ago) and screen (his Emmy-winning performance as Jack on the dear departed soap As the World Turns). This is a great role to showcase his many talents; his Macheath is a charming rogue with a sinister presence on stage that can silence or beguile with just one look, and his voice is divine! Minnesota's own Broadway star Laura Osnes sings like an angel as Polly Peachum. She's come a long way since I last saw her seven and a half years ago on the Chanhassen stage as Sandy in Grease, becoming a regular on the Broadway boards and racking up two Tony nominations. I'm so proud of her success and happy I finally got to see her perform in NYC, and meet her and chat about Minnesota theater. The entire ensemble is just wonderful, especially Sally Murphy as Jenny, Mack's one-time love who turns him in.

Atlantic Theater Company's production of The Threepenny Opera is seedy, sexy, raw, earthy, and gorgeously staged and sung by the talented cast. I'm so grateful I had the chance to see it during it's two-month run, and I'm looking forward to seeing The Threepenny Opera again soon back home in Minnesota.