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Stage Left Theater shakes up ‘The Threepenny Opera’

The cast of Stage Left Theater’s “The Threepenny Opera.” (Emily Jones)
The cast of Stage Left Theater’s “The Threepenny Opera.” (Emily Jones)

For the creative teams that stage “The Threepenny Opera,” the musical is a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure production.

There’s the option to stay true to the Victorian London setting or the opportunity to make the story feel more current.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen such a varied interpretation of a show before,” co-director Troy Nickerson said. “I think that’s one of the cool things about it is you can really do what you want as far as how you want to present it, what style you want to present it in.”

Stage Left Theater’s production of “The Threepenny Opera,” which opens Friday and runs through Nov. 3, is a mix of both – vintage and in the now.

The costumes, too, Nickerson said, are a little crazy.

The varied settings work because the message of the production rings true nearly a century after its debut.

For audiences, though, no matter the twist on the production, the story remains the same.

“The Threepenny Opera,” set in Victorian London, centers on Macheath, aka Mackie or Mack the Knife (Robert Tombari), a notorious criminal.

Near the beginning of the show, Mack marries Polly Peachum (Isabella Mesenbrink), the daughter of J.J. (Jeremy Whittington) and Celia Peachum (Katie Pease).

J.J. controls the beggars and, after realizing his daughter has become involved with Mack, vows to have him hanged.

To J.J.’s frustration, however, the chief of police, Tiger Brown (Hollis Higgins), always intervenes. Brown, it turns out, is a friend of Mack’s from their time in the Army.

But eventually, J.J. gets his wish, and Mack is arrested and sentenced to hang. But will Mack actually meet his demise?

Stage Left’s production is co-directed by Nickerson and Phoebe Oosterhuis and music directed by Kristen Nauditt.

The musical also stars Abbey Crawford (Jenny), Amy Dawson (Lucy Brown), Kevin Connell (Filch) and Ron Ford (Reverend Kimball/Smith).

“The Threepenny Opera” features a book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. The English adaptation is by Marc Blitzstein. It’s adapted from Elisabeth Hauptmann’s translation of John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” and four ballads by François Villon.

Some of the songs featured in “The Threepenny Opera,” including “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” and “Pirate Jenny,” have become standards.

And even though the word “opera” appears in the production’s name, there is a bit of a debate about whether “The Threepenny Opera” is an opera or a piece of musical theater.

Nickerson, for his part, has his mind made up.

“It’s a mix of both, at least what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s definitely musical theater, and then there’s some very operatic moments, too.”

The fourth wall gets broken a lot, he said, with actors speaking directly to the audience, but there also are big, dramatic moments, plus a bit of camp for good measure.

Nickerson saw his brother in a production of “The Threepenny Opera” years ago and remembers enjoying the show, but he soon forgot about it. It’s been brought back to his attention in recent years, however, because of all that’s happened politically.

“It really deals with human kindness and the haves and the have nots and do we have empathy for beggars and whores and prostitutes and how we, as a society in our world, treat humans, treat people that we deem to be lower than us or not,” he said. “It’s still a story worth telling.”

Nickerson said those who don’t already know the story shouldn’t worry but simply be open to the experience “The Threepenny Opera” presents.

“It’s a really interesting, very diverse piece of theater,” he said. “What we’ve done with it is fresh and exciting, so hopefully that will translate.”

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