Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Weill’d ride at the REP’s Threepenny Opera

Matthew Earnest has created an updated version of Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill’s production of the Dreigroschenoper which opened in Berlin almost exactly 200 years after its model, John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera opened in London in 1728. Since Brecht and Weill updated the Eighteenth Century ballad opera, why shouldn’t we update the 1928 version? The times they are a-changin’ as that fan of the songs once said.

Earnest used the authorized translation (Robert David MacDonald for the dialogue and Jeremy Sams for the lyrics), but perhaps allowed a bit of colorful interjection into the script. That color fit in and didn’t seem to make anyone in Friday’s audience bolt for the door, but note that your ten-year-old may add a few undesirable words to their vocabulary should you take them to see the show.

The musicians were hidden backstage – against Berthold Brecht’s desires but perhaps for the best with the sound in the Wilhemina Press Thompson Theatre. Ryan Touhey must have had a way of seeing the singers, though, because the orchestra was spot on with musical cues and attacks.

The set and costumes by Mathew LeFebvre deserve special commendation as they invoked the simplicity of the ‘poor’ and the exaggeration of the ‘wealthy’ villains whom we get to know so well. The projected titles were quite dramatic and the darkened set with its red and brown overtones gave the opening the feeling that they had discovered Jenny on a dark and abandoned street. Elizabeth Heflin (Jenny) belted the beloved Mack the Knife song with gritty harshness which got us into the underworld mood. Lovely touches like a mini-harpsichord for the wedding in the barn, a bathtub on a conveyor belt for Jenny’s Solomon song, a carousel horse bearing a Beefeater, a shower-sized jail cell and a revolving barn door added that farcical touch.

Deena Burke (Polly) has quite a beautiful voice and Mic Matarrese had the powerful baritone for the wicked MacHeath. Erin Partin (Lucy Brown) has that comic edge and her voice blended beautifully with Burke’s in the Jealousy Duet. Kathleen Pirkl-Tague was a broadly comic Mrs. Peachum who helped us laugh at the futility of life.

The songs are bawdy and their message of futility and injustice apply to any society at any time. Brecht and Weill’s protest of the fascist and bankrupt Germany of 1928 with foreign war service as the only way out for the downtrodden is a perfect vehicle to protest the unjust distribution of wealth in the United States of 2013.

Leave your ten-year-old with a babysitter, but take your grandmother. She understands more of this history than you do. Show continues until February 2, 2013 at the Roselle Center for the Arts in Newark.


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