The University of Victoria brings the “landmark of modern theatre” – the satire and theatrics of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill – to its stage this month.
“One of the things about Threepenny Opera is it really is the musical that sets the form for all musicals that followed after it,” said Brian Richmond, director of the show opening Nov. 5 at UVic’s Phoenix Theatres.
A loose adaptation of the 18th-century The Beggar’s Opera, Brecht takes aim at the traditional bourgeoisie, revealing a society where law is fickle, money corrupts and crime pays.
“(Brecht, Weill) were deeply cynical and nihilist about what the future of Germany was going to be,” Richmond said.
“Fortunately it’s difficult to tap into that in a contemporary audience because although we have our problems, our problems are nowhere near as extreme.”
In this adaptation, Richmond has set the stage for 2028 under the premise of a collapsed world economy.
“There’s a lot of embedded anger, what’s different between now and those times is we have managed to avert cataclysmic crisis,” he said.
Set in a dystopic future, this musical saga follows the villainous but irresistible Mack the Knife as he marries the impressionable and innocent Polly – much to the displeasure of her parents – while continuing his illicit relationship with his mistress, Jenny.
“Two days before they opened (in 1928), the actor playing the street singer said his part wasn’t big enough so he was going to leave the show,” the UVic professor said. “That’s what caused them to write Mack the Knife.”
Nearly a century later that opening number remains a standard since it premiered in 1928. It was buoyed by the off-Broadway revival 1954 to ‘61 that featured icons of that generation, such as Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Ella Fitzgerald.
“Wiell was one of the seminal composers of the 20th century. He had a great career in Germany and fled because of the rise of Naziism,” Richmond said.
That career revived in America, and to hear his music is something the audience will enjoy, the director added.
While he favours the Song of Solomon, “there are a number of great songs in the show,” Richmond said. “We have this hugely talented student cast and creative team surrounding the show.”
The large cast of 19 includes seven well-respected Victoria musicians led by music director Hank Pine. Choreography is by the preeminent movement consultant Jacques Lemay. Professor and renowned designer Allan Stichbury collaborated on the set design with fifth-year design student Pauline Stynes (who previously designed costumes for Amadeus and Picnic).
Fourth-year student Jacqueline Gilchrist designed the playful, cardboard-inspired costumes that reference both a dystopian future and a by-gone era. MFA alumna and Bangkok University professor Poe Limkul returns to the Phoenix to design the lighting.
With vast international experience as a dialect expert, Iris MacGregor-Bannerman has helped the cast position their accents across the UK. Production and management student and stage manger Becca Jorgensen completes her degree with this production.
Richmond will discuss his vision of The Threepenny Opera with a preshow lecture on opening night Friday, Nov. 6.
Visit phoenixtheatres.ca for showtimes and ticket information or call the box office 250-721-8000. The production includes coarse language and is recommended for those 16 and older.