By Vicki Paris Goodman
Beggars and hookers and thieves (Oh, my!). This motley crew depicts the harsh realities of life in (nineteenth century?) London in an updated version of The Threepenny Opera, the scathing 1920s musical by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Michael Feingold’s very English translation of this originally German social commentary and operetta seems to find inspiration in gritty shows like Les Miz and Oliver while juxtaposing the misery with a comic overlay reminiscent of Candide. The result works well during many of the musical numbers but loses its audience when the players talk too much, which is often.
Fortunately, the musical interludes are exceedingly well executed, thanks to a dream cast of top-notch vocalists who act as well as they sing.
Jeff Griggs proves a commanding presence as Macheath, better known as the subject of the show’s most memorable song, “Mack the Knife.” He is the chief crook of a band of thieves and a womanizer of serious proportion.
As Polly (daughter of the couple who organizes the city’s beggars) and Lucy (daughter of the very corrupt chief of police) allow their jealousies over Macheath to escalate into a near catfight, Mackie renews his acquaintance with a prostitute named Jenny.
One of the show’s most entertaining numbers is Polly and Lucy’s “Jealousy Duet,” which exemplifies “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Actresses Shannon Warne and Rachel Genevieve make easy work of the difficult roles of Polly and Lucy as we ponder why they aren’t employed as principal sopranos with the Met.
Zarah Mahler’s Jenny is at once fiercely loyal and susceptible to bribery. She delivers an impassioned solo in “Solomon Song.”
Eileen T’Kaye is masterful as the hard-edged and almost toothless Mrs. Peachum.
A bona fide sociopath, Macheath is so well connected that he’s operated his criminal activities for years with immunity from prosecution. But his days are numbered once Polly’s papa Peachum (Tom Shelton) learns of Mack’s relationship with his daughter.
No sooner is Macheath escorted to his execution to finally receive his comeuppance than the Queen inexplicably orders his pardon. Hmmph! No justice done here but, then again, I suppose that depends upon your point of view…
Kay Cole’s innovative choreography draws out the show’s intensity of mood and style while allowing for instances of comic relief.
Shon LeBlanc’s costumes are stunning.
Darryl Archibald leads a five-piece combo of musicians who capably perform all of the show’s diverse music, which encompasses a mildly discordant Baroque overture, a bit of modern jazz and the cabaret numbers one might expect.
Director Jules Aaron has his cast displaying a lot of flesh in this highly sexualized rendition of The Threepenny Opera. If his intent was to compensate for the less compelling moments, my guess is that minds sometimes wandered all the same.
The Threepenny Opera continues at International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 300 E. Ocean Blvd., through March 22. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $35 and $40 on Thursdays; $40 and $45 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Call (562) 436-4610 for information and reservations or visit ICT’s website at www.ictlongbeach.org.