Virgil Thomson has called Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera” “one of century’s most powerful creations” and Bob Dylan said about the music “I was aroused straightaway by the raw intensity of the songs”. Powerful lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, were originally set to music by composer, Kurt Weill and it was Elisabeth Hauptmann who maintained the raw intensity of the lyrics when originally translating them into English. The translation of the dialogs and lyrics for this production was done by Robert MacDonald and Jeremy Sams. It is absolutely incredible that the musical that was originally produced in Germany, in 1928, as a scathing social and political critique about the clash of the haves and the have-nots, echoes true today.
Tattoo covered Jonny Moreno, as Macheath, with the words HUSTLER tattooed on his chest, is the fierce king of the 1930s Berlin’s underbelly, where the women admire him and cops make deals with him. Moreno’s acting is fantastic and his voice commands respect. The bagger king Peachum also runs his little kingdom where he trains the baggers on concocting tales of woes, to generate maximum sympathy from the donors. No one can bag on his turf without prior permission from Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, who get a commission from all bagger earnings. Paul Myrvold and Susan Gundunas last seen together at The Stage, in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, are fabulous as colorful Peachums. With all the respective turfs well defined, there is a functional system that keeps things organized, up to a point. But in the end, Macheath’s undoing happens because of the women. With two wives and his visits to the whore house, his women love him and hate him, in equal measure. Monique Hafen is fabulous in the role of innocent Polly Peachum (the bagger king’s daughter). She marries Macheath, unaware of his prior marriage and other passing interests. Halsey Varady as astute heroin shooting druggie, Jenny Diver, is superb.
Director Kenneth Kelleher, Musical Director Richard Marriott and Vocal Director, Allison F. Rich have done a marvelous job in capturing the underbelly of 1930s city streets of Europe, where alliances shift rapidly and the downtrodden have their own code for survival, where you gotta watch your own back.
This absolutely spell binding performance is undoubtedly “not to miss” play of this quarter. Kudos to Artistic Director, Randall King and Executive Director, Cathleen King for bringing such evocative, edgy, intense productions to San Jose Stage. For tickets, go to http://www.thestage.org.