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“It’s an Opera for Beggars” Threepenny Opera Opens Off-Broadway

Nora Dominick ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

A still from The Threepenny Opera. Photo Credit: Kevin Garcia.
A still from The Threepenny Opera. Photo Credit: Kevin Garcia.

“It’s an opera for beggars. So enjoy!” shouts F. Murray Abraham, beginning this quaint Off-Broadway production of Threepenny Opera.

The Threepenny Opera opened its doors on April 7, 2014 at the Atlantic Theatre Company in NYC. The musical was originally a German musical with music by Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. The original production was adapted from an eighteenth century English ballad opera, John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. This production breathes new life into the Marc Blitzstein translation of the piece, which originally premiered in 1954 at the Theatre de Lys, renamed the Lucille Lortel Theatre, in NYC. The current production is headed by director/choreographer Martha Clarke who is known for her work in theatre, dance, and opera.

Threepenny Opera tells the story of the charismatic and manipulative Macheath “Mack the Knife” (Michael Park) and his exploits in nineteenth century London. The three-act musical begins when Macheath marries the beautiful Polly Peachum (Laura Osnes). The marriage displeases her father (F. Murray Abraham) and her mother (Mary Beth Peil), who control the beggars of London. Mr. and Mrs. Peachum devise a plan to catch Macheath and have him hanged, which creates tension with Polly. The entirety of the show revolves around the quest for Macheath and his relationships with Polly, his girlfriend Lucy (Lilli Cooper), and the prostitute he visits frequently, Jenny (Sally Murphy). The production makes a comment on the corrupt society of nineteenth century London. The show runs around two hours, which is a bit long for the production. By the middle of the third act, the storylines seem lengthy. With musicals today, audiences tend to become bored easily and in this production certain scenes could have been left out.

A still from The Threepenny Opera. Photo Credit: Kevin Garcia.
A still from The Threepenny Opera. Photo Credit: Kevin Garcia.

In a cast filled with play and musical veterans, the talent drives the show. At the head of the production comes F. Murray Abraham, a stage extraordinaire. He has a laundry list of stage credits including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice and Othello. In Threepenny Opera he perfectly portrays the sleazy but lovable Mr. Peachum. In one breath, Abraham makes the audience question his morals and in the next you feel compassion for him when he tries to protect Polly. Abraham’s character also acts as the show’s narrator.

The next major player in the production is Michael Park. Park brings new life into the iconic role of Macheath. His booming voice commands the small Linda Gross Theatre. Park is another veteran to the stage. He most recently was seen in the 2011 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opposite Daniel Radcliffe. He brings the same powerful voice that commanded an enormous Broadway stage to this quaint production. Another incredible performer in Threepenny Opera is Laura Osnes. Coming off her Tony Award Nominated performance in Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, she quickly shifts gears to the love-struck Polly Peachum. Osnes’ operatic, soprano voice fits perfectly into this opera especially when she performs “Barbara’s Song.” Osnes has stripped away Cinderella and now wanders the dark and dirty streets of London. Her performance as Polly and Park’s performance as Macheath perfectly fit together and create a beautiful and extremely talented pair.

A still from The Threepenny Opera. Photo Credit: Kevin Garcia.
A still from The Threepenny Opera. Photo Credit: Kevin Garcia.

Although Abraham, Park, and Osnes are the three major stage veterans in the show, the real standout comes in Sally Murphy’s performance of Jenny. Murphy manages to portray the life-worn character with ease. Between her exceptional voice and her incredible acting, Murphy steals Act II and Act III of Threepenny Opera. She performs the song “Pirate Jenny” (a song by Polly in the original) with great emotion. Her shining acting moment comes when she sells out Macheath to the police after Mrs. Peachum offers her money. Jenny may be a prostitute but Murphy portrays her as a young woman who wants a better life for herself. Murphy’s performance is one for the ages and is the standout in Threepenny Opera.

The re-imagining of the musical is being housed at the Linda Gross Theatre, which is a perfect match for this dark and intimate show. The theatre is located in an old church that has been converted into a small black box theatre. The minimalistic set pieces and props add the theme of the show being an opera for beggars. The set up of the orchestra is very unique. The seven-piece orchestra is positioned in a small cut out in the set. Although the orchestra plays the music extremely well with the distance between the audience and the orchestra it was sometimes hard to hear the music.

Between the stunning performance by Murphy and the re-imagined design of this opera, Threepenny Opera is something you do not want to miss. The musical runs until May 11th, so reserve your tickets soon so you can catch the Off-Broadway hit of the 2014 season!

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