The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music's (CCM) year-long Kurt Weill Festival resumes this month with a dynamic new production of the iconic musical The Threepenny Opera. Composed by Kurt Weill with book and lyrics by dramatist Bertolt Brecht (adapted into English by Marc Blitzstein), The Threepenny Opera weaves the riveting tale of notorious bandit and womanizer Macheath ("Mack the Knife") and his seedy companions in London's underworld. Weill's innovative score invented a new form of musical theatre, leading the way for such shows as Chicago and Cabaret.
CCM's Mainstage Series production of this jazz-infused musical is directed by Robin Guarino, with musical direction by Roger Grodsky, choreography by Patti James and scenic designs by Tony Award-winning guest artist John Arnone.
The Threepenny Opera runs Thursday, Feb. 28, through Sunday, March 10, in UC's Patricia Corbett Theater. Tickets are on sale now. This production contains mature subject matter.
Premiering in Berlin in 1928, The Threepenny Opera is a satirical take on traditional opera and operetta, perhaps best known for its opening ballad "Mack the Knife," which has since been recorded by countless artists including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. The Threepenny Opera exhibits a segment of Weill's eclectic body of work that is totally distinctive from the one audiences saw during CCM's acclaimed revival of Weill, Langston Hughes and Elmer Rice's opera Street Scene this past November.
Adapted from an 18th century ballad opera by John Gay (which itself was a parody of baroque composer George Frideric Handel's operas), The Threepenny Opera is a work of "epic theatre," designed to challenge conventional notions of property and art. A theatrical movement from the early to mid-20th century, epic theatre is characterized in part by keeping viewers aware that they are watching a play. "Brecht deliberately takes an 'anti-naturalistic' approach," Guarino explains, "making the audience conscious that they are experiencing art, often by breaking the fourth wall and inspiring social action by disrupting the expectation of simple 'threepenny' entertainment."
One of the ways that CCM's production will underscore this tradition is by placing the show's musicians on stage and in costume. "Brecht wanted the music to actually interrupt the play," says CCM Associate Professor of Musicology and Kurt Weill expert bruce mcclung. "The original production had two different lighting systems so that it would be obvious to the audience when the cast switched from spoken dialogue to singing. Brecht wanted to highlight the break between the two."
Set in an anachronistic Victorian London, The Threepenny Opera features set designs by John Arnone, a Tony Award winner whose impressive list of credits for theatre, film and television spans nearly 40 years. As a founding member of New York's Lion Theatre Company, Arnone designed numerous critically acclaimed productions including Music Hall Sidelights featuring Kathy Bates as Colette and K: Impressions of Kafka's The Trial for which he received his first Obie Award. With director Des McAnuff, Arnone worked on over 15 productions at La Jolla Playhouse beginning in 1984, including works by Shakespeare, Moliere, Checkov and new works. They returned to Broadway in 1993 with The Who's Tommy, which earned five Tony Awards including Best Set Design for Arnone, and the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which won a Tony for its star Matthew Broderick. In addition to being a Tony Award and Obie Award winner, Arnone is the recipient of the Drama Desk Award, NAACP Award, Ovation Award, New York Theater Wing Award, and others.