"The Three Penny Opera" by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil at the John Waldron Arts Center is seventy-five years old, but there’s still a lot of bite behind its snarling satire of bourgeois society. Brecht’s picture is of an underworld society where begging, stealing and even murder are all parts of entrepreneurial endeavor. A girl’s parents think that marriage is down-right immoral. The more brutally effective a criminal, the higher is his status. And betrayal always trumps trust.
The production is a joint venture with the Detour Theatre Company and the Bloomington Area Arts Council. Terence Hartnett has directed with a light hand that lets the fascinating array of Brecht’s characters blossom. Part of Brecht’s purpose in "The Three Penny Opera" is to keep the audience a bit off balance with loosely connected episodes. However, the production has a neat, clear overall style.
One of the great things about the Bloomington area is that there is a lot of town in the gowns and a lot of gowns in the town. The Detour Theatre production makes generous use of the mix with plenty of IU School of Music students in the cast and the orchestra and plenty of twelve-month-a-year Bloomingtonians as well. Conductor Mark Wolter and vocal coach Jake Sentgeorge have done a fine job of working with singing actors and actor singers to the benefit of both the drama and the music. Wolter’s eight piece orchestra, complete with banjo and accordion, only occasionally overpowered the singers and gave a good account of Kurt Weil’s jazzy, dissonant score. Costumes, ranging from glamorous to seedy were designed by Abigail Miller. Each set of clothes had its own story to tell.
In Saturday night’s cast of "The Three Penny Opera," Mathew Gaily’s calm poise and excellent diction suited the part of the beggar’s CEO to a "t." Alex Schotts brought a nice gangster personae and fine singing to the role of Mack the Knife. Lianne Gennaco was quite perfect as in the midst of a world of crime she played the dewey eyed ingénue. Campbell Vertesi was bluff and hearty enough, if a little nervous, as Mack’s old army buddy, now the Police Commissioner Tiger Brown. Bryn Chapman and Abigail Mitchell were appealingly vulnerable, yet tough as Mack’s other ladies. Peter Cramer, Quinto Ott, and James Torry made a varied and interesting trio of eccentrics as Mack’s gang. Throughout the show Mike Price was very effective in his role as the Street Singer as he set up scenes, wryly commented and even played a part or two.
The Detour Theatre production of Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht’s "Three Penny Opera" plays Friday and Saturday nights at eight and Sundays at two through November 21st.