Sunday, November 15, 2009

Rice Thresher Review

The Rice Thresher gave The Threepenny Opera a rave review!

Penny for the guy! - Entertainment

Penny for the guy!

VADA debuts an eerie and brilliant show with The Threepenny Opera

byJuliana Serrano

Issue date: 11/13/09 Section: Entertainment

Media Credit: David Rosales

From the elaborate make-up and costumes, to the captivating story line, to the bewitchingly surreal voices of the main actors, The Threepenny Opera is guaranteed to keep viewers enthralled and lost in another time and place more distorted than our own: one filled with poverty and corruption instead of problem sets and college systems.

The show, first written in 1928 by German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and based on John Gay's 1728 The Beggar's Opera, is an ironic satire of the political state of Victorian England. Penned as a Marxist critique of the capitalistic world, The Threepenny Opera was supposed to be the opera of the beggars who could not go to the traditional, opulent opera of the time.

Even though the writer of Threepenny intended the opera as a mockery from beginning to end, one of its most enjoyable aspects is its mostly realistic storyline - at least until the very end - and its very tangible, very applicable message.

The story centers around an amoral, anti-heroic bandit named Macheath, or "Mac the Knife," who marries Polly, the juvenile and rebellious daughter of a shop owner, Mr. Peachum, who has power over the beggars of London. In addition to following this relationship, the play also centers on the attempts to capture Macheath, who is chased throughout the story. The plot explores the question of morality: more specifically, whether a shop owner who takes advantage of the beggars' plight for his own profit is more immoral than is a simple womanizing bandit.

From the very beginning of the show, the actors hook the viewers in with their stoic looks, their faces caked in white and cheeks dabbed with rouge as they march on stage in celebration of the bandit Macheath. The costumes, make-up, dark scenery and strong voices start the opera off on a strong note.

If Threepenny has flaws, they lie in overacting. The delivery seems slightly forced at points, and some of the emotions come across as overemphasized. Actors without microphones are also occasionally hard to hear, but these details prove trivial when stacked next to the overall performance. The show gives far more to rave about than to criticize.

The main cast is brilliant. Martel College senior Charlie McKean gives a very convincing portrayal of the crazed bandit Macheath, especially considering what a departure Macheath is from the mild-mannered Tony he played in Wiess Tabletop's West Side Story last year. As Macheath, McKean proves once again that he has a strong and versatile voice.

Each voice, from Mrs. Peachum's (Shepherd School of Music lecturer Rachel Buchman) tremendous deep voice to Jenny's (University of Houston theater graduate Elissa Levitt) sexy and strong tone, is impressive. In fact, when the entire chorus stands together, their combined voices are enough to send chills up viewers' spines.

However, one cannot mention incredible singing without discussing Shepherd School of Music graduate Laura Botkin as Polly. Botkin's voice is unreal - she absolutely glitters on stage with her dazzling white wedding dress, flirty poses and enchanting voice.

University of Houston music graduate Danica Johnston, who plays the role of jealous girlfriend Lucy, doesn't lag far behind in voice. One of the play's most memorable moments is when Botkin and Johnston harmonize in the "Jealousy Duet." Dressed in flapper attire, Johnston is a radiant, bouncy character, en

rapturing the audience in both song and movement.

One particular song to watch for is the "Pimp's Ballad." The scene is worth it for the costumes alone. From feathers to brightly colored tights to elaborate wigs, the costumes combine raunchy poses and talented voices for an incredible number.

The stage crew and the orchestra must also be commended. Matthew Schlief's moody stage design is impeccable as always, and the captions carried by the stoic, ragged-looking beggars look great, connecting the different parts of the play and enhancing the feeling of being transported to another world. The jazzy orchestra is also swinging, complete with a saxophone that adds attitude to the show.

It is clear that these able actors and others involved put a lot of work and effort into the production, and the result is a magnificent conglomerate of solid talent and entertainment.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Make-Up Workshop

Are they clowns? Are they Charles Chaplin? Are they weird Japanese Rock Stars??

NO!!! They're the Threepenny Opera Cast! HOORAY!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Beggar's Opera

From Rachel Buchman (Frau Peachum):
The following introduction comes from a copy of The Beggar's Opera I picked up in NYC at the end of the summer. Beggar's Opera by John Gay is the opera that Threepenny very closely follows. This introduction explains much about the historical characters, the underworld society the characters operate in, the meaning of some of the vocabulary and so on.

Other resources that are worth investigating:
Berlin Alexanderplatz by Doblin
[It takes place in Weimar Berlin]
Moll Flanders by Defoe
Takes place in London in the 1720's, the time of The Beggar's Opera and graphically deals with the life of beggars, whores, and thieves. It really brings to life many of the people and circumstances depicted in Threepenny. It is also an unintentionally enlightening and sympathetic portrait of women in early 18th century society.
Berlin Alexanderplatz- German television series based on the book, directed by Fassbinder
Threepenny Opera- movie version directed by Pabst (from 1931)
Collection of George Grosz's drawings and paintings entitled "Ecce Homor."

CLICK images to read! !

The Beggar's Opera by John Gar; Penguin Classics Edition
Published: 1986, London/NY

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Past Production Research- Threepenny on Broadway

'Threepenny Opera' Brings Renewed Decadence to Studio 54

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper in "The Threepenny Opera."

Published: April 21, 2006

AND you thought those crazy, hazy nights when Studio 54 sizzled were strictly a thing of the past. Think again, disco boys and girls. Why right now — on the very spot where Halston, Liza, Bianca and Andy once held sybaritic court — you can watch the same kinds of revels they might have witnessed in the 1970's, thanks to the shrill, numbing revival of "The Threepenny Opera" that opened at the theater at Studio 54 last night.

Audio Slide Show: A Shiny 'Threepenny'
Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Ana Gasteyer, left, Nellie McKay and Jim Dale in "The Threepenny Opera," at Studio 54.

Cross-dressed men and women in writhing sexual pretzels; leather boys and glitter queens vacuuming up piles of snow with their nostrils; strobe lights, neon lights and, yes, disco-ball lights. There's even a bare-chested hunk in a gold lamé bathing suit who arrives on a flying golden horse, summoning sweet memories of that fab birthday party for Bianca. (Or was it Liz?) All of this is once again on tap via the Roundabout Theater Company.

There's one big difference: nobody in the current incarnation of those days of swine and poses seems to be having any fun. This is one party where the hangover begins almost as soon as the evening does.

Almost two and a half years after the Roundabout's canny cash cow of a revival of "Cabaret" closed at Studio 54 (after more than five years in residence), the company is again inviting theatergoers to come to the cabaret, old chum. This time the occasion is Scott Elliott's production of the 1928 show that made musicals like "Cabaret" and "Chicago" possible: Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's "Threepenny Opera" is the granddaddy of all the singing, stinging portraits of fat societies on their eves of destruction.

Mr. Elliott has even recruited one of the stars of the Roundabout "Cabaret," Alan Cumming, who won a Tony playing the ghoulish M.C. in the Kander-Ebb musical and who here portrays the murdering, whoring, stealing Macheath (Mac the Knife), the prince of thieves in stinking, corrupt London. But while it raises the kink quotient even higher than "Cabaret" did, this production has nothing like the same sustained point of view that might hook and hypnotize audiences. With Mr. Elliott overseeing a cast jam-packed with misused talent (including the pop stars Cyndi Lauper and Nellie McKay), this "Threepenny" takes Brecht's notion of the theater of alienation to new self-defeating extremes.

Created in the era in which "Cabaret" was set, "The Threepenny Opera" remains the most famous and popular example of what Brecht called "epic theater." Inspired by John Gay's rollicking "Beggar's Opera" (1728), "Threepenny" translated the tale of the villainous but irresistible Macheath and his marauders into the age of Queen Victoria. But the show's real satiric targets were the middle classes of poverty-crippled, rudderless Germany in the 1920's.

Using deliberately artificial techniques — painted signs, scene-setting titles, spoken asides and musical-hall songs that often had little to do with the immediate plot — the play was designed to sustain an intellectual distance, to allow audiences to see their own reflections in vicious thugs, whores, beggars and policemen motivated by the same primal needs and instincts as themselves. The music, Brecht wrote, was meant to become "an active collaborator in the stripping bare of the middle-class corpus of ideas."

An immediate, scandalous hit in Europe, "Threepenny" failed to generate the same frissons when it first arrived in New York in 1933. Writing of its Broadway premiere in The New York Times, Lewis Nichols described it as "a gently mad evening in the theater for those who like their spades in the usual nomenclature of the earnest." It wasn't until the fabled Off Broadway revival at the Theater de Lys in 1954 — with Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, as the prostitute Jenny — that "Threepenny" achieved popular success in Manhattan.

That production used a translation by Marc Blitzstein that is probably still the best-known English version but is regarded by purists as a softened and sanitized interpretation. Certainly no such complaints can be lodged against the new translation by the playwright Wallace Shawn, whose rendering is both more densely lyrical (with some cumbersome poetic tropes in the songs) and explicitly obscene than any I know. This is a show that doesn't hesitate to call sexual organs and acts by their most common names, loudly and repeatedly.

In the same spirit Mr. Elliott has chosen to make full use of a freedom from censorship that Brecht could only have envied. So in this version Macheath's love interests include not only the usual component of female whores (most notably Ms. Lauper as Jenny), but also their male counterparts.

Macheath again finds himself torn between two brides: the demi-virginal Polly Peachum (Ms. McKay) and Lucy Brown (Brian Charles Rooney). But in this case Lucy is a man, who makes a point of showing the audience exactly what lies beneath his skirt. Macheath's friendship with Tiger Brown (Christopher Innvar), Lucy's father and the chief of police, is of the crotch-grabbing, kissing kind. And for a copulatory free-for-all brothel sequence, the participants' underwear glows luridly beneath a black light. (Jason Lyons did the lighting, which allows for Brechtian signage to be writ in neon and L.C.D. supertitles.)

Isaac Mizrahi created the costumes here, in a smorgasbord of salacious styles, from a cleavage-flashing Chanel-style suit to the "Blue Angel"-style chanteuse get-ups worn by Ms. Lauper. Most of the clothes, plucked from racks on Derek McLane's naked it's-only-a-play set, suggest that their wearers have just come from frolicking in the back room of a leather bar. This includes Mr. Cumming's Macheath, who trades in the character's usual gentlemanly suit and bowler for a punkish ensemble and a Mohawk.

The performances are just as widely varied and as bereft of character-defining purpose. Everything seems done for isolated shock effect, without any regard to how one stylistic component might relate to another, so it's impossible to intuit exactly what society is being skewered.

Looking like Dietrich and sounding like a Brooklyn Piaf, Ms. Lauper delivers Jenny's ballads with teary, soulful intensity. She also leads, in Lenya-like style, the show's famous prologue, "Song of the Extraordinary Crimes of Mac the Knife." That marvelous trouper Jim Dale plays Mr. Peachum, Polly's father and the head of a vast network of beggars, in the seedy music-hall style of Laurence Olivier in "The Entertainer." As his wife, Ana Gasteyer talks like a shrill Scarsdale matron and sings penetratingly in a voice of a hundred trumpets.

Mr. Cumming brings much conviction and agony to Macheath's songs of the oppressed in the prison and hanging scenes. But there's little sense of the menacing charisma that keeps all of London atremble.

Ms. McKay, the inventive and seriously talented young singer-songwriter ("Get Away From Me"), comes closest to achieving a Brechtian effect. Clad in trailing pre-Raphaelite bridal white, her Polly speaks and sings with a flat, deadpan sincerity that suggests sugary blandness can accommodate a multitude of sins. It's a brave, carefully thought-out performance, though its willful affectlessness means that songs like "Pirate Jenny" (restored to Polly here, as in the original version) have no chance of being showstoppers.

The only songs delivered at full throttle are those that tell the audience members how rotten they are: "Certain Things Make Our Life Impossible," "How Do Humans Live?," "Cry From the Grave." But in presenting Brecht's lowlifes as exotic, feckless party animals instead of as pseudo-bourgeois materialists, Mr. Elliott keeps these characters at more of a distance from us than Brecht surely ever intended. Their censoriousness registers as just a random dip in a pharmaceutically induced roller coaster of moods. Another line of cocaine or two, and these hedonists will forget all about the poor and hungry.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Costume Designs by Macy Perrone

Costume Designs for Rice University's The Threepenny Opera
by Macy Peronne
Assistant: Cait McMillen

Macheath (Charlie McKean)
Jenny Divers-Elissa Levitt

Polly Peachum- Laura Botkin

Mr. Peachum- Daniel Williamson;
Mrs. Peachum- Rachel Buchman

Mac's Gang
Ed- Mark Plitt; Wa:lt Dreary- Dustin Gallo; Jimmy- Catherine Augello; Matt of the Mint-Aaron Tallman; Crookfinger Jack- Patrick Kruse; Sawtooth Bob-Jordan Bunch

The Whores: Whore in white- Catherine Augello, Betty- Caroline Turner, Whore with beret- Victoria Solorzano, Dolly- MK Quinn

The Beggars (Chorus); Filch- William Figueroa