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The Three Penny Opera

Long before Broadway musicals entered the western theatrical canon, there was opera. As with any new genre, the early days of opera were fluid with experimentation. One sub-genre, satirical ballad opera, survives today in only one iteration: The Three Penny Opera (1928), a gritty importuning of Brechtian agit-prop, with music by Kurt Weill, adapted from Elizabeth Hauptmann's German version of the 1728 classic, The Beggar's Opera, by John Gay (book) and Johann Christoph Pepusch (music).

Morgan Van De Hey as Low-Dive Jenny
Morgan Van De Hey as Low-Dive Jenny
While The Three Penny Opera is generally most renowned for it's signature opening number, "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" and the imaginative madrigal, "Pirate Jenny," this adapted ballad opera is, at its heart, another of Bertolt Brecht's deft critiques of a system in which capital is valued over labor.

In director El Armstrong's current production—translated by Jeremy Sams & Robert McDonald, with musical direction by Boni McIntyre—now running at Miner's Alley Playhouse, the cautionary Renaissance source material comes alive with all the glory and decadence of German expressionism, in the den of Macheath's thieving street clan.

We can't help but think of our hard-to-find copy of Pete Brewton's "The Mafia, CIA & George Bush,"1 when we see the ease at which Macheath (Richard Cowden) and the beggars, whores, thieves, and murderers for whom he pimps, along with their counterparts in the civil service, move back and forth across legal boundaries.

(Left to right) Dana Hart Lubeck as Lucy Brown, Richard Cowden as Macheath, and Erica Lyn Cain as Polly Peachum
(L to R) Dana Hart Lubeck
as Lucy Brown,
Richard Cowden as Macheath,
and Erica Lyn Cain
as Polly Peachum
Cowden hits all the right notes while radiating guileless entitlement and deviousness. One hopes that the corrupt authorities are exposed before they do away with Machealth to assuage some political expediency. What would we do without him? Where would the blue or red ticket be without the low-level operatives (muscle) by which they enforce their will on the underclasses?

Armstrong infuses a taste of Fellini (particularly Satyricon) as well as Hieronymus Bosch (The Garden of Earthly Delights, etc.) into the proceedings: Have we ever seen so many antagonists, all protagonists in their own minds? The Peachums (Jonathan Jeremiah, lord of the beggars [the natty and nasty Don DeVeux], and Celia [the searing and sexy Mel Horton]), their polymorphous daughter Polly (an effervescent Erica Lyn Cain), the cop-on-the-take, Jackie "Tiger" Brown (a delightfully duplicitous Verle Hite), and that siren of the night, Low-Dive Jenny (a burlesque-worthy Megan Van De Hey) all shine, along with a stellar ensemble.

Mel Horton as Mrs. Celia Peachum and Don DeVeux as Mr. Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum
Mel Horton as Mrs. Celia Peachum and
Don DeVeux as Mr. Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum
McIntyre (piano) and Robert Gale (a host of instruments, including accordion, guitar, piccolo, etc.) bring the cabaret idiom to full realization.

Miners Alley Playhouse's presentation of The Three Penny Opera runs through October 21st. For more information: 303-935-3044 or www.minersalley.com.

Bob Bows

Footnotes: 1 George Herbert Walker Bush, "Poppy," the 41st President of the United States, January 20, 1989—January 20, 1993, plus Vice President acting as President for a major portion of the Reagan years, 1981–89.

 

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