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The Threepenny Opera

a Musical
by Bertolt Brecht (words), Kurt Weill (music), Marcc Blitzstein (translation)

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 4952

SHOWING : September 09, 2016 - September 25, 2016



Drawing inspiration from German Expressionist cinema of the 1920s along with contemporary struggles for social and economic equality, 7 Stages Theatre will open our 38th season with Bertolt Brecht’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA. Live musicians and Atlanta’s best actors perform powerful songs of revolution like ‘How to Survive’ along with classic numbers ‘Mack the Knife’ and ‘Pirate Jenny’ in this raw musical about power, sex, and the evil things one must do to stay alive in a corrupt world.

Director Michael Haverty
Director Bryan Mercer
Jenny Dorothy V Bell
Crookfinger Jake/Ensemble Tad Cameron
U/S Lucy Brown Claire Christie
Lucy Brown Jessica DeMaria
Mrs. Peachum Don Finney
Betty/Ensemble Meg Harkins
Bob the Saw/Smith/Ensemble Evan Hynes
Polly Peachum Stephanie Lloyd
Mr. JJ Peachum Kevin Stillwell
Macheath Aaron Strand
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


by playgoer
Friday, September 16, 2016
Bertolt Brecht is famous for his concept of the alienation effect, in which performances are consciously created to prevent an audience from identifying with the characters. The 7 Stages production of "The Threepenny Opera" is clearly in this tradition. It borrows elements from expressionist cinema and vaudeville shtick to present the action in an overtly theatrical way. For the most part, it works as entertainment.

The uncredited set design consists of a number of separately movable pieces with unusually shaped ingress/egress openings, painted in strong black-and-white designs by scenic artist Courtney Earl. The pieces of the set (including the three-piece orchestra, consisting of piano, percussion, and cello) are reconfigured at the start of each of the three acts. Costumes, designed by DeeDee Chmielewski, continue this black-and-white color scheme with great panache. Some of Melisa DuBois’ props fit in with this color scheme, but not enough to create the impression of a consistent design sensibility extending to the props.

The true stars of the show’s visual appeal are the lights (designed by Rebecca Makus), animations (designed by Kristin Haverty), and video (designed by Michael Haverty). Effects with a video camera are used at the start to introduce the actors in a fashion resembling silent films, and these effects combine throughout the production with projections on a screen in the back and on a tablecloth to have a humorous and/or atmospheric impact.

Sound design also works well, with pre-recorded music, ostensibly coming from a Victrola, alternating with live instrumentals (including an accordion played by Nicolette Emanuelle and a guitar played by Aaron Strand). The pianist and percussionist are also cast members, and their entrance into the action during musical numbers is seamless. Music director Bryan Mercer had good voices to work with, but he has encouraged the actors to over-project, letting the raw edges of their voices often come to the forefront. A microphone at the lip of the stage tends to distort voices, making "Mack the Knife," sung by the Street Singer (Nicolette Emanuelle), almost ugly in sound. This is probably intended as part of the alienation effect.

Accents in the show are totally inconsistent. Kevin Stillwell (playing Mr. Peachum) has a nice, understandable English accent. Adam Lowe (playing Tiger Brown) has a hard-to-understand Irish accent. Dorothy V. Bell-Polk (playing Jenny) has a flat American accent. Bryan Mercer (playing Matt) has a New Yawk accent. Others have accents along the American-English axis. The broadness of performances is more consistent, with the exception of Ms. Bell-Polk, who doesn’t seem to have the acting chops to elevate her performance to the level of the others.

Directors Michael Haverty and Bryan Mercer have created a fluid movement for the show, adding occasional choreographic touches that work well in the context of the ensemble nature of the show. Nevertheless, some performances stand out from the ensemble. Aaron Strand is a powerful Macheath, equaled by Stephanie Lloyd’s more femininely powerful Lucy Brown. Kevin Stillwell and Don Finney, as Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, also give strong and assured performances. Jessica DeMaria does fine work as Lucy Brown, but I think I would have preferred more of a stereotypical ingénue in the role.

The feeling of the show is of the grotesque rather than of the grittiness that might be expected in a story that takes place in the dregs of the London populace. Makeup is garish rather than grimy, with lots of rosy cheeks, and costumes don’t seem distressed (although Ms. Emanuelle’s bodice had distressing slippage at the end of the performance I attended). The sensibility is that of a silent German expressionist film, with loudness rather than silence accompanying the visuals. It’s not an emotionally affecting work when done in this Brechtian style, and its agit-prop components don’t have the resonance they did in the 1930’s, but this "Threepenny Opera" has a big, grotesque pile of entertainment value. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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