The Threepenny Opera Theatre Review - Mack is Back!

The Cast of "The Threepenny Opera" now running at the Intercational City Theater in Long Beach

Look out, Old Macky is back” with International City Theatre’s mounting of Brecht and Weills The Threepenny Opera.  Once a socially relevant declaration of epic theatre, the piece remains a little less shocking to modern eyes.  The show, nevertheless, doesn’t seem to disappoint in its ability to capture curiosity with its quirky style, nontraditional ballads and antiheroic protagonist.  

Director Jules Aaron has done an admirable job in his staging, using the elusive space at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center to the show’s favor.  The theatre itself is somewhat epic in its own modest size, a sort of juxtaposition that serves the story quite well.  The relatively narrow depth of the house contradicts the surprisingly wide stretch of its length.  The space is intimate enough to stage actors throughout the audience as Aaron does, but big enough to house the grandeur of the show’s haunting themes.  

The Cast of "The Threepenny Opera" now running at the Intercational City Theater in Long Beach

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, a brief summary:  Our Marxist inspired hero, Macheath (Jeff Griggs), is a criminal of sorts (a scroll of endless length marks his every crime from murder to rape).  At the top of the show, he is back in town and secretly marries Ms. Polly Peachum (Shannon Warne), daughter of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum (Tom Shelton), the poorest (or richest) man in town.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Peachum (Eileen T'Kaye) are unhappy with the new felon addition to the family and conspire to have him hanged.  However, a few minor glitches- including Macheath’s childhood friendship with the chief of police Tiger Brown (Paul Zegler), an affair with his daughter Lucy (Rachel Genevieve) who feigns pregnancy, an unresolved love with local prostitute Jenny Diver (Zarah Mahler), and the coronation of the new Queen- slow down the process.  Despite his near-death conclusion, however, Macheath naturally escapes for a happy ending via a pardon from the new Queen.  

The Cast of "The Threepenny Opera" now running at the Intercational City Theater in Long Beach

The Threepenny Opera seems to give way to endless possibilities of stylistic interpretation.  The show lends itself to a dark satire, while holding true to some elements of musical theatre comedy.  At the same time, it’s “opera”-like qualities give it a classical grounding in terms of musical theatre storytelling.  Aaron seems to have provoked a sort of commingling of a dark, heavily stylized retelling with a lighter, less declarative sensibility. Whether or not this is intentional, it seems to take the edge off of what could easily be the deep, brooding, Sweeney-Todd-like vibe throughout the entirety of the show.  Macheath’s men for example, serve more as a comedy troop of buffoons rather than a desperate group of heathens, rich with sin.  

For the most part, I like this hybrid of richer choices, however, the production does stand on the brink of being a bit too safe.  The darker moments seem to want a bit more rawness to honor the historic objective of the work.

Jeff Griggs & Zarah Mahler in "The Threepenny Opera"

When the style dominates, it works well.  Costuming (Shon LeBlanc) ranges from absolutely captivating (as with Macheath, robed in rich cerulean blue pants and demanding boots) to questionably out-of-place (as with the newest beggar in town, Filch (Michael Uribes), who is dressed in a modern looking salmon blouse and thankless slacks)  Anthony Gagliardi's hair (Mrs Peachum’s red wig is a delight) and the makeup design all serve well the dreary world of a poor man’s London.  When the group comes together at the top and again for the closing, the total effect of set, costume, music and staging is truly enjoyable.

Jeff Griggs’ Macheath sings with such great command and beautiful control.  In fact, his voice dominates his performance, perhaps maybe a bit to a fault.  His heavily ingénue-like voice is occasionally reminiscent of a Disney hero and sort of strips Macheath of the terrifying threat that makes him the most feared criminal in town.  This serves well at times to alleviate a potentially entirely serious performance- as with his farewell scene with Polly before he is to flee town, turning in soap-operatic style, he sings a falsetto tune that absolutely relishes in comedy- but it at times keeps him from delving into the deepest realms of a truly terrifying Macheath.

Rachel Genvieve & Shannon Wanre in "The Threepenny Opera"

Shannon Warne is a wonderful Polly Peachum.  Her voice stands beautifully alone but also blends harmoniously with both Jeff Griggs and Rachel Genevieve.  A well-rounded character, her endless grace mixes ever so delicately with a rich brassiness that truly captivates the performance.

ICT has done a very good job with this production; it’s a good kickoff to 2009.

The Threepenny Opera opens Friday, February 20, 2009 and will run through Sunday, March 22, 2009 @:

Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 E. Ocean Boulevard
Long Beach, CA

Thursday-Saturday @ 8pm,
Sunday @ 2pm

For reservations:
call: 562-436-4610

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