Memorable performances mark Lawrence Arts Center's 'Threepenny Opera'
Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera” opened last weekend at the Lawrence Arts Center, and fortunately for those who didn’t catch it, the production will run for another weekend, October 26-27-28. Crisply directed by Ric Averill, the show fills the stage with music, color and movement, while unflinchingly exploring Brecht’s grim vision of poverty, criminality, justice and injustice.
If you cut your teeth on the original (1954) off-Broadway production, the lyrics will be unfamiliar, though they express the same sentiments. Averill has chosen the Robert MacDonald translation of the original German rather than the more familiar Marc Blitzstein version.
Unquestionably one of the stars of this show is the Free State Liberation Orchestra, ably conducted by Carlos Espinosa, with 12 musicians playing 23 instruments, using Weill’s original orchestration. The production rolls on a tide of sound, through the show’s 24 songs. Close your eyes and you’d swear you were listening to the original soundtrack.
Seth Golay, one of three Equity actors in the production, is a memorable MacHeath, playing a demanding role with élan. As “Mack the Knife,” though we know he’s a deep-dyed criminal, he is so charming that the audience as well as his lady friends fall under his spell. His strong clear tenor never fades, from the rousing “Cannon Song” in Act I through his riveting final ballad in Act III.
Lawrence native Breanna Pine returns from New York to her hometown to play the lead role of Polly Peachum. Also an Equity actor, Pine brings a brilliant soprano voice and impressive acting talent to the role. Her solos “Pirate Jenny” and “Barbara Song“ and spirited “Jealousy Duet,” a musical catfight with Elizabeth Haney in a nice turn as Lucy Brown, are high points in the show.
Polly’s parents, J.J. Peachum and his wife, are well played by Jim Korinke and Sarah Young. Korinke, an award-winning professional familiar to the Kansas City theatre scene, carries off the role of Peachum convincingly, making the character believable both as the outfitter and trainer of London’s beggars and as the philosopher and conscience of the story. Young lends her commanding stage presence and superb voice to the role of Mrs. Peachum.
Other noteworthy performances include Ric Averill as the corrupt Chief of Police Tiger Brown, and John Phythyon who plays the beggar Filch, as well as the Queen’s Messenger, arriving on horseback in a scene not to be missed.
The cast of 22, many doubling or tripling as Beggars/Thieves/Whores/Constables/Dancers (there are 35 characters) hit their marks, pick up their cues, and keep the stage alive with movement. Not only is the whole stage filled with action, but it spills over into the pit and the first row of seats–notably in the frenetic chase scene when Mack is arrested.
The clever set by Tammy Keiser features colorful two-story residence frameworks at right and left, serving inter alia as the Peachums’ shop and house and Jenny Diver’s brothel. Painted planking, ropes and ship silhouettes create the feel of a dock area. And the pit at stage right holds the barred cell where MacHeath is imprisoned, as well as the gallows where he is to be hanged.
Colorful costuming by Steffani Day renders the Beggars, Thieves and Whores suitably ragged and disreputable. Art Kent’s lighting effectively helps to unify the often-centrifugal action.
The show runs three hours, with two intermissions. In the second, the audience is treated to champagne. Cheers!
- Dean Bevan