The Roundabout Theatre Company offers up a new and different version of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s "The Threepenny Opera." NY1 Contributing Critic David Cote of Time Out New York filed this review.
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Lock your doors and hide your daughters - Mack the Knife is back in town. But even MackieÕs friends and enemies may not recognize the charismatic killer with a knife up his sleeve. This Macheath looks more like a go-go dancer after a night of clubbing than Bertolt Brecht’s infamous gangster.
Garish, flashy and full of attitude, the new revival of “The Threepenny Opera” is anything but dull. With a cast of pop stars, Broadway veterans and enough transvestites to pack a Chelsea club, it achieves the unthinkable on Broadway: the thrill of rock concert, and the danger of a street fight.
Director Scott Elliot’s vision could be described as Bertolt Brecht meets “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Here, Mack the Knife, usually portrayed as a debonair gangster who imitates respectable folks, is a flamboyant bisexual imp played by Alan Cumming.
Polly Peachum, the supposedly nice girl who falls for bad-boy Mackie, is portrayed as a dazed waif by the enchanting pop starlet Nellie McKay.
Polly’s parents, the cynical Peachums, are tacky suburbanites played by “Saturday Night Live” alumna Ana Gasteyer and the marvelous showman Jim Dale. Cyndi Lauper is gritty and soulful as Jenny, the sympathetic prostitute who loves Mack, but betrays him anyway.
The new translation of the book and lyrics is by actor-playwright Wallace Shawn, and it may be the nastiest and most profanity-filled version you’ve ever heard. That suits the spirit of the original, which contrasted Kurt Weill’s seductive jazzy show tunes with Brecht’s harsh, misanthropic vision of a dog-eat-dog world.
Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi’s kitschy and punk-flavored costumes are eye-catching, even if we could use less of the 1980s drag queen clichŽs. Derek McLaneÕs set is a massive installation of neon signs that drop in and out of scenes.
Finally, director Scott Elliot encourages his motley, gung-ho cast to flaunt their bodies and bad manners at the audience for maximum shock value.
Some audience members are bound to hate “The Threepenny Opera’s” sass and gender-bending antics. Brecht and Weill purists may also be horrified by the glam-rock makeover and its lack of Marxist politics.
It’s true that this version could take more political jabs at the audience as the authors intended, but there’s no denying the prodution’s theatrical gusto and visual excitement. In a Broadway scene almost entirely devoid of risks, this Threepenny dares to enrage, bewilder and offend. It turns out that ole Mackie hasnÕt lost his bite.
- David Cote
Time Out New York