On June 3-5, 9-12, and 16-19, Raleigh Little Theatre will conclude its 2010-11 main-stage series with Marc Blitzstein’s sensational 1954 translation/adaptation of The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper), in its Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre. Blitzstein’s Off-Broadway hit features music by German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill (1900-50) and lyrics and book by German-Marxist poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956).
The Threepenny Opera, which had its world premiere in August 1928 in Berlin, is based on The Beggar’s Opera, an 18th-century ballad opera by English dramatist and poet John Gay (1685-1732), which Brecht transformed into a scathing Marxist critique of capitalism in Victorian London.
“I guess I was exposed to The Threepenny Opera kind of in vitro,” quips long-time RLT artistic director Haskell Fitz-Simons. “My father had a recording of the old 1954 version, which we wore out at home. I was in it in college, and I have directed The Beggar’s Opera — on which [The Threepenny Opera] is based — twice…. So, I know the material pretty well, plus all of the music is engraved in my DNA.”
Fitz-Simons cracks, “This is a show that I’m very passionate about, and I tend to be very enthusiastic.”
He adds, “I have always loved Kurt Weill’s music, but it does seem like the moral of The Threepenny Opera is those who have don’t give a whit about those who have not, and that is what turns those who have not into criminals — so that they can survive.
“Of course, Fitz-Simons says, “Brecht was a huge champion of the rights of the underprivileged. He was a Marxist, and The Threepenny Opera is close to an agitprop piece. Brecht certainly believed that the rich had too much, and the poor had too little; and there ought to be some equanimity there.”
He adds, “Kurt Weill’s music is incredible. It is the music that appealed to me first off. There would be no musicals of Cabaret , Chicago , or Urinetown  had there been no Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill. He sort of invented that style.”
Fitz-Simons claims, “There is quite an evolution from The Beggar’s Opera, which had a jolly Robin-Hoody kind of feeling, to The Threepenny Opera, which is very dark.
“The music can be rough on the ear. there’s a lot of dissonance and drama in the music, as well as some great old tunes such as ‘Mack the Knife,’ ‘Pirate Jenny,’ and the ‘Tango-Ballad.'”
Raleigh Little Theatre‘s cast for The Threepenny Opera includes Mark Ridenour as London’s infamous king of crime Macheath (a.k.a. “Mack the Knife”); Stuart Byham as king of the beggars Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum; Alison Lawrence as his wife Mrs. (Celia) Peachum; Kate P. Bowra as the Peachums’ pretty daughter Polly; Warren Keyes as Mack’s best friend London police chief Jackie “Tiger” Brown; Jean Marie Whaley as Tiger Brown’s wayward daughter Lucy; Misha Nikitine as the beggar Charles Filch; Izzy Burger as the notorious prostitute Jenny Diver; Tim Cherry as the Rev. Kimbell and a Mounted Messenger; Kerry Sullivan, Heather Shinpaugh, and Sarah Gordon as the whores Betty, Molly, and Coaxer; Morgan Piner and Lela Johnston as the twins Dolly and Lolly; and Rose Martin Higgins and Brent Wilson as the Streetsingers.
Mack’s gang also includes Joshua Broadhurst, Chris Daniels, Matt Gromelich, and Jonathan Lowry; and Colton Carrigo and Delphon Curtis, Jr. complete the male ensemble.
In addition to director Haskell Fitz-Simons, the Raleigh Little Theatre creative team for The Threepenny Opera includes assistant director Tim Locklear, choreographer Nancy Rich, musical director Julie Florin, technical director Jim Zervas, set designer John Hodges, lighting designer Josh Reaves, costume designer Vicki Olson, properties manager Ruth Berry, and stage manager Scott Wray.
“The Threeprenny Opera takes place in London in the 1830s,” says director Haskell Fitz-Simons, “literally on the eve of the coronation of Queen Victoria [1819-1901]. Jeremiah Peachum [Stuart Byham] runs an outfitting shop for beggars, and they are looking forward to the coronation, because of all the opportunities for begging and pickpocketing that that will present.
“Peachum’s beautiful daughter Polly [Kate Bowra] has become involved with the notorious gangster Mack the Knife [Mark Ridenour], a murderer and a thief. Polly’s parents are furious. They don’t want Polly’s husband to have any claim on the family business, so they hatch a plot to have Macheath apprehended and hanged. In order to do that, they enlist the aid of Jenny Diver [Izzy Burger], a prostitute who’s had previous dealings with Macheath.
“Jenny betrays Macheath to the cops; and the chief of police is Tiger Brown [Warren Keyes], who’s an old friend of Macheath’s. But this a arrest is too much in the public eye, so Tiger Brown has to betray Macheath as well,” Fitz-Simons explains.
He adds, “There is some urgency to get the hanging done early in the day, so that the crowds who have gathered to witness it can move on to the coronation. There’s a sort of gruesome end the show as Macheath is led to the gallows, but of course there is a surprise happy ending.”
Director Haskell Fitz-Simons notes, “[The score of The Threepenny Opera] is not easy music to learn, so that was a challenge. The show takes place in London, so it takes some extra schooling to do it with various London dialects.
“[The Threepenny Opera] really is a German Expressionistic piece,” Fitz-Simons claims, “so it’s not realistic. Therefore, coming up with a visual concept has been a challenge. But I’ve been very pleased with the design work.”
He adds, “The set has to take us to a number of different places. We’re using a unit of platforms, and the flow is very good.
“Vicki Olson has had more fun than any costume designer ought to coming up with an eclectic assortment of costumes,” Fitz-Simons chuckles. “The lighting’s beautiful. In Brecht’s style, people step out of character and talk directly to the audience [and the] lighting must accommodate that.”
Raleigh Little Theatre presents THE THREEPENNY OPERA at 8 p.m. June 3 and 4, 3 p.m. June 5, 8 p.m. June 9-11, 3 p.m. June 12, 8 p.m. June 16-18, and 3 p.m. June 19 in the Cantey V. Sutton Main Stage Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors 62+), except all tickets $12 on June 5th.
BOX OFFICE: 919/821-3111 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: There will be a wine-and-cheese meet-the-cast reception in the main stage lobby, following the show’s opening-night performance on June 3rd.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 3 p.m. June 5th performance.
NOTE 3: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive listening devices are available for all shows.
The Musical: http://www.rnh.com/show/105/The-Threepenny-Opera (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization), http://www.kwf.org/kurt-weill/weill-works/by-title/134-n4main.html (Kurt Weill Foundation for Music), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Threepenny_Opera (Wikipedia), and http://www.threepennyopera.org/ (fan site).
Bertolt Brecht: http://wiu.edu/users/brecht10/ (International Brecht Society) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertolt_Brecht (Wikipedia).
Kurt Weill: http://www.kwf.org/ (Kurt Weill Foundation for Music) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Weill (Wikipedia).
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