Not your typical tuner, and admittedly one of my least favorite musicals of all time (if you can call this atonal bit of agitprop a musical), but I had several friends in the cast, and you know by now that my friends always give terrific performances in their shows, so I went.
I believe I started to dislike this work back in my undergraduate days, when I saw my first Threepenny Opera (and frankly, swore never to see another one. Obviously, I broke that pledge.).
I was to encounter another Brecht Wreck years later, in graduate school, and this time, it was personal, as I appeared in it. Perhaps it's lucky that I don't have any pictures of our production of Mother Courage, in which I was forced to play the role of the Chaplain (as an actor in the MFA program, the department was free to cast me as they liked, and no amount of negotiation could get me out of this show. I have hopes of writing all about this experience one day; it was a lousy production but a good story).
The Chaplain is (arguably) the male lead in Mother Courage, and my solo number in USC's production was so atonally obnoxious that even my fellow cast members felt sorry for me. I performed in 11 shows during my two years on campus at the University of South Carolina, and Mother Courage wins the award as my least favorite. The fact that our production ended up on the Best of the Year list of one of the local newspaper critics still astounds me.
But what the heck do I know? The Three Penny Opera is probably revived more often than any other Brecht, though I think regular theatergoers attend it because they think it's good for them. Nobody gets any artistic nutrition out of Anything Goes, so to atone for enjoying such fluff, we must, every once in a while, see some Brecht. Like eating broccoli or watching ballet, we do it because it's good for us.
Over the years, other high-profile productions have featured Raul Julia (that production was actually filmed), Blair Brown, Ellen Greene, and even Sting. The most recent Broadway revival was a starstudded affair with Alan Cumming as Macheath, supported by Cindi Lauper, Ana Gasteyer, Jim Dale, and yet another male actor playing Lucy.
|In its most recent Broadway revival, Cindi Lauper|
played Jenny, opposite the Mrs. Peachum of
There are a couple of clips out there of those other revivals mentioned above, but none of them are interesting enough for the Friday Dance Party. For our purposes, we must return to the first German revival of the piece after WWII. It happened in Berlin in 1945, and was described as "raw...but free." The audience had to access the bombed-out theatre by climbing over rubble and going through a tunnel. The theatre had no roof, so the performance was in the open air, which was a good thing, as the smell of rotting bodies trapped under the rubble wafted through the space. The audience was in rags, as were the actors, some of whom had just been released from concentration camps.
This week's clip comes from that unique performance. As you can see, the opening number is being shared by two actresses (there were precious few male actors left in Germany at this time), and you can almost smell the stench of the performance stage. But the rawness of the venue is matched by the searing honesty with which these two women attack the song. This may be the most important rendition of "Mack the Knife" ever performed. Try to ignore the distasteful appearance of these two, and listen to the song itself; never has it been filled with such meaning and clarity. Brecht and Weill would be so pleased.