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Theater Review: ...Threepenny Opera... a Rich Performance

Despite Talent, Harvard Actors Can...t Grasp Raunchy Feel of Original Performance

By Jonathan Richmond

The Threepenny Opera

By Kurt Weill

Lowell House Opera

Music Director Harry Huff

Stage Director Kate Greenhalgh

Lowell House, Harvard University

March 8, 10, 11, 15, 17 & 18 at 8:30

As I write, I am listening to a recording of Ute Lemper singing the ballad of “Mack the Knife” from Kurt Weill’s “The Threepenny Opera.” Lemper’s voice sizzles with sleazy sexuality; evil is glorified by a voice of infinite flexibility that turns all that is bad into erotic pleasure.

Switch to Lowell House at Harvard, currently staging Weill’s Opera, and the effect is rather different. In fact, the “Mack the Knife” number was one of the best sung, very directly and fluently communicated by talented Harvard freshman John Kapusta. But, while the standard of singing in the production was generally good, the team of pink-faced Harvard girls and boys (together with a number of area professionals) showed they really didn’t have much experience of Weill’s world of kinky sex, brutal crime, and depraved lives spinning their way to sorry deaths. This was a suburban production.

Tracy Reynolds as Mrs. Peachum (who, together with Mr. Peachum runs a racket to organize and extort money from London’s beggars) provided the best characterization overall. Not only was her voice supple (her singing of “The Ballad of Dependency” was great), but her voice and actions dripped with guile. Don’t try to strike too tight a bargain with this character!

I liked Karoun Demirjian’s performance of “Pirate Jenny,” as she did bring out the needed anger and despair in this number. At the other extreme, however, Harvard senior Colin Shepherd, as would-be beggar Charles Filch, was a picture of spoiled teenage innocence, and not credible even as a trainee rogue.

“Barbara Song” was sung musically by junior Chelsey Forbess as Polly Peachum, but her mellifluous and enjoyable singing just did not have the right bite. Brian Ballard as Macheath and Nicholas Commins as Tiger Brown also sang well, but came across as just a couple of nice guys playing at being bad, and were unable to evoke the elements of the sinister that are essential to Weill.

The staging by Kate Greenhalgh was too laid back, too prettified, and too far removed from the violence of Weill’s setting of Bertold Brecht’s tale. The band was terrific, however, and music director Harry Huff carried along the show at a good pace. The excellence of the singing must not be underplayed, either: this is a highly-enjoyable musical evening that makes an excursion to Harvard most worthwhile. It is just too cutesy to bring the drama of Kurt Weill to life.