The Threepenny Opera
Sacramento, CA 95816
California Stage’s impressive production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera is mesmerizing. Actually, it may be more accurate to describe it as Angelina Réaux’s Threepenny Opera, since this Grammy-nominated theater, cabaret and opera singer’s fingerprints are all over this production—including pulling together top local talent, directing the large talented cast, and producing a visually stunning show with her costume and set design.
Réaux is recognized as a worldwide interpreter of composer Weill’s work and has been involved in numerous productions of The Threepenny Opera everywhere but Sacramento. So we nod in gratitude for Réaux bringing her best to town, as well as bringing out the best in this show’s cast and crew.
First, a word to those who fear the word “opera”—don’t let this stop you from catching this show. German dramatist Brecht and composer Weill opened The Threepenny Opera in 1928, and it’s proven to be one of the precursors of modern-day musicals. The songs, including the famous “Mack the Knife,” are meaningful and tuneful, and the story line and subject matters are deep, dark and politically pointed.
The story is particularly timely, asking such questions as, “Who is the bigger criminal: he who robs a bank or he who founds one?” Based in Victorian England, The Threepenny Opera explores the underworld of beggars, prostitutes and corrupt cops—where it’s hard to distinguish the morally bankrupt from the day-to-day survivalist. The plot centers around major bad dude Mack the Knife (a most menacing and memorable Michael R.J. Campbell); his various loves, lusts and criminal undertakings; and the bleak world he cavorts in and oftentimes creates with pleasure.
Mack has just married Polly Peachum, daughter of Mr. J.J. Peachum, the man who controls the professional street beggars. The wedding takes place in a horse stable, is attended by gangsters and “blessed” by a corrupt politician. It doesn’t bode well for “happy ever after,” so it’s no surprise that it becomes the catalyst for dark and doom, back stabbing, bribe baiting, bride regretting, whore wailing, gang grumbling, political pissing and an all-around major meltdown.
Every cast member should individually take center stage and bow, with special applause to Campbell, Michael Sokol as Mr. Peachum, Kelly Daniells as Polly, Jessica Goldman as Jenny, Gregory Jurado as Street Singer/Filch, Whitney-Claire Roeder as Lucy Brown, Jeffrey Lloyd Heatherly as Tiger Brown, Harry Sadler as Smith, and Vincent Dee Miles as Kimball. And of course, Réaux as Mrs. Peachum. The live band is invited to take a bow as well.
In addition to the top-notch performances, the whole look and feel of the production leaves a lasting impression, so let’s bring back Réaux for a second bow, since she not only directed this production, but also acted as costume and set designer. The eye-catching Victorian garb is spot-on while the Clockwork Orange makeup and squalor set is hauntingly beautiful. The only complaint is the poor acoustics, which makes it hard to decipher many of the lyrics.
In addition, there is great use of the expansive former-warehouse space at California Stage that is oftentimes intimacy-challenged due to its size and lack of real heat. But for The Threepenny Opera, the cold, cavernous space is the perfect atmosphere for the poor Dickens-inspired streets of Victorian London. It’s a London brought to Sacramento that shouldn’t be missed.