Nightingale has a tale from dark side
By KAREN SHADE, 09/18/2008
Summer has gone, and so has the tendency to stack light-hearted musicals on top of each other. But once in a while, something different and darker comes around. At the Nightingale Theater, the Actor's Company of Tulsa is putting up a little 1928 German operetta that set a blitz on musical theater in its day.
Starr Hardgrove, the play's director, said this "Threepenny Opera" is the best show he's worked on. It's also the biggest his theater group, which put up its first production last year with "Proof," has done.
"It's definitely a lot like spinning a lot of plates at the same time and making sure they keep up with one another," he said. "The cast has been phenomenal."
Bertolt Brecht's "Threepenny Opera" might ring a bell (certainly theater buffs), but it's the show's opening song, "Mack the Knife" — and its numerous covers by the likes of Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra — that resonates.
Hardgrove said the song might not have made it into the show at all. But an actor in the original production believed he needed a proper introduction. In the 80 years since it put a fire under raving audiences, "Threepenny" (based on John Gay's 1728 "Beggar's Opera") still grabs attention for its black satire set in Victorian London's back-alley underworld.
This is the haunt of Mac-heath — murderer, rapist, all-around baddie — whose marriage to a girl named Polly could be his ultimate undoing.
Brecht's words and poetry set to Kurt Weill's music still sing, especially in a cabaret environment like the Nightingale space, Hardgrove said.
What does an audience need to know before seating itself for three hours of story as told by the famed anarchist-poet?
"He was a pioneer of the theater movement," he said, "constantly reminding audiences they were in a play."
Brecht wants you to think about issues of class and economics and to pay attention to the relationships of his characters. Hardgrove wants you to find the relevance between Brecht's work and the present.
"The best way to come into the show is with no preconceived notions," he said. "It's a story of Mack the Knife and his troubles with women, and that's what we've tried to spotlight. It's the difference between the person who robs the bank and the person who founds the bank."