Arts Listings

Arts: Alameda’s Virago Reprises ‘Threepenny Opera’

By KEN BULLOCK Special to the Planet
Tuesday April 04, 2006

The Ballad Singer strikes up with the one about Mack The Knife—“Mackie Messer,” more properly—and the upside-down underworld odyssey of Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera begins. 

The show runs the gamut through the stews, prisons and streetlife of a L ondon that’s really Weimar Republic Berlin (or anywhere “civilized” today) as the quarrels and antics of beggars, crooks and whores are valorized in great songs that have become the staple of cabaret. 

Virago Theatre Co.’s reprise of their sold-out run of this masterpiece of musical theater, which plays this Saturday at Alameda’s Masonic Hall, capitalizes on all these elements. 

Though staged many times, and filmed several—with roles originated or taken up by performers ranging from Weill’s wife Lotte Len ya and Peter Lorre, to Raul Julia and Sammy Davis, Jr.—most people are familiar with at least a song or two, rather than the full-dress version. And Virago’s production takes it up from here with staging that has the flexibility of cabaret. 

“The actors e ngage with the audience,” said Virago’s Artistic Director Laura Lundy-Paine, who staged the show. “Mack The Knife will take a seat next to a spectator, glance at their program, even blow them a kiss. The songs are directed to the audience, and the ensembl e performs the action around it. 

We’ve done everything, too, to make this performance one of today’s world—no accents, no historical settings. When Peachum, the head of the beggars union, derides Mack The Knife for being a crook while Peachum’s a business man, when one character offhandedly orders another to die—these are the lawless struggles among the powerful in any city, anywhere, any time in history.” 

Virago’s production is mounted with a pocket orchestra of three (piano, accordion and drums) and a c ast of nine, most of whom act multiple roles. 

“It’s fun to watch spectators flip through their programs to identify a tough gangmember that just came onstage,” laughed Lundy-Paine, “when they just saw the same actor singing demurely, quite a lady!” 

Ther e’s been a spate of Brecht revivals over the past year or so, the first time since the ‘60s and ‘70s that as much interest has been shown to the socially-conscious playwright, who endeavored to found a form of theater on a new way of getting the message a cross. 

Threepenny Opera, his most popular work (and one of a handful of works he did with composer Weill), both charms and scalds the audience, its easy air of skepticism a model for the cynical pose of later representations of pre-World War II Weimar Be rlin, like Caberet. 

Based on John Gay’s 18th century ballad drama, The Beggar’s Opera, this masterpiece has the timeless air of its predecessor—a satiric touch for the sacred cows of polite society, an ageless entertainment that delivers its message with a crooked smile. 


Virago Theatre presents Threepenny Opera at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8 at Masonic Hall, 2312 Alameda Ave., Alemeda. $17; students $10. For more information, call 865-6237 or see 


Photo by: Philip Kaake 

Virago Theatre’s Cynthia Rogers Baggot, Michelle Mills, Anthony Abate and Eileen Meredith perform Threepenny Opera in Alameda this Saturday.