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BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre's Sinister and Sizzling THE THREEPENNY OPERA

Originally adapted from John Gay's "The Beggar's Opera" with a writing collective Bertolt Brecht had formed, The Threepenny Opera, with Brecht's lyrics brought to life by Kurt Weill's inspired musical compositions, is a dark look at the underworld, oozing with depravity, and filled with a sense of desperation, neatly leavened by a sharpened satirical edge. New Line Theatre gives us this stage noir classic with all its wickedness intact. It's a pitch-black masterpiece that sucks you in with its nightmarish charms. This is the Marc Bliztstein translation, and I only mention that because there have been numerous attempts at re-imagining the work over the years. New Line Theatre gives us the Brecht/Weill collaboration I've imagined in my mind after only hearing select musical pieces, and watching a fuzzy copy of G.W. Pabst's 1931 film. This is true art, and a show that you absolutely need to see!

The idea behind the The Threepenny Opera is to provide a cheap source of entertainment geared to the meager amount someone who is poor could afford to pay. But, it's not your typical escape from reality, but instead reflects their environment, one that is not as far removed from the conditions of the present as we would like to admit. This is the world of the murderous and womanizing criminal Capt. Macheath, who has thus far avoided arrest due to his time spent at war in India with the chief of police, Tiger Brown. And, he achieves this while juggling the affections of Polly Peachum, Lucy Brown, and Jenny Diver, among others. A reward for his capture catches the eye of the slimy Mr. Peachum, who exploits beggars to provide his income. He and his wife are not pleased in the least that Macheath plans on marrying their daughter, and this is a way to rid themselves of the rogue.

Todd Schaefer reveals Macheath's evil charisma through a brilliant performance that makes us actually care about this scoundrel's plight. As Peachum, Zachary Allen Farmer delivers an equally malevolent portrait of a wastrel, feeding off the pain of the poor, and always on the lookout for any chance to turn a quick buck. Sarah Porter is deliciously malignant as his wife, and all three do superb work vocally. Cherlyn Alvarez is an excellent Polly, bringing her vocal talents to the tricky "Pirate Jenny", and giving us a character that appears virginal and pure, but proves she has the backbone to run Macheath's organization while he prepares to hide from the law. Christina Rios does fine work as Lucy Brown, and so does Nikki Glenn as Jenny Driver.

The large supporting cast is also very strong with Christopher Clark (Tiger Brown), Reynaldo Arceno (Reverend/Warden Smith), Readymoney Matt (Brian Claussen), Kent Coffel (Crookfinger Jake), Jeremy Hyatt (Filch), Todd Micali (Walt Dreary), Kimi Short (Molly) Margeau Steinau (Betty), Luke Steingruby (Bob the Saw), and Larissa White (Dolly), all delivering splendid performances.

Director Scott Miller has, once again, breathed new life into a classic that's not as easy to wrap your head around vocally as you would imagine. Forget Bobby Darin's jazzy pop take on "The Ballad of Mack the Knife", and really listen to the peculiar changes and verbal barbs that are present in the original version presented here. This is truly an inspired and artful piece of theatre.

Jeffrey Richard Carter's (piano/conductor) musical direction is finely honed, and he's aided by the band consisting of: Tom Hanson (trombone), Clancy Newell (percussion), Adam Rugo (guitar, although I swore I saw a banjo in there), Patrick Swan (trumpet), Marc Strathman (reeds), and Rebecca Parisi (reeds). Rob Lippert provides another diverting scenic design, with some cool levels amidst the urban decay. Sarah Porter's costumes are perfectly matched to the characters, and conjure up the period with decadent style. Kenneth Zinkl's moody lighting adds the final touch.

New Line Theatre has put together a compelling and completely engaging production of The Threepenny Opera. So few have seen in all its dingy glory, and this is your chance to do so. The show continues through June 20, 2015 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre.

Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

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