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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE THREEPENNY OPERA
at the Linda Gross Theater

GOOD GOLLY, MISS POLLY
By JEREMY GERARD

  Ph: Kevin Thomas Garcia

Laura Osnes was the only reason to suffer through Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on Broadway. The same holds true for her latest undertaking as Polly Peachum in Martha Clarke’s morbidly unfascinating and frankly silly hash of The Threepenny Opera.
 
Before she is a minute older, Osnes ought to be cast as Eliza Doolittle in a revival of My Fair Lady, opposite Hugh Laurie as Henry Higgins and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Freddy. But I digress.
 
Terrible things have been done in recent times to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s biting adaptation of John Gay’s 18th-century play The Beggar’s Opera – by director Scott Elliott and adapter Wallace Shawn for the Roundabout Theatre in 2006; by director John Dexter in a 1989 Broadway production starring Sting that was DOA (but at least introduced a vital, scabrously witty translation by Michael Feingold). You’d have to go back to Richard Foreman’s throbbing 1976 version for Joseph Papp at the Vivian Beaumont, fueled by a charismatic Raul Julia as the murderous roué Macheath, to find a production worthy of the 1928 original or the equally legendary revival that ran in Greenwich Village at the Theatre de Lys (now the Lucille Lortel) in the late 1950s.
 
The current revival is an R-rated Oliver!, provocative looking on the surface, mushy as pablum below. When F. Murray Abraham opens his mouth to sing Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum’s “Morning Anthem,” I half expected to hear “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” instead.
 
Peachum and his wife (Mary Beth Peil, the show’s other outstanding performer) control the beggar’s racket in London, staking the corners, supplying the costumes and making sure their tatterdemalion crew conform to the tried-and-true stereotypes for schnorring money from strangers.
 
They’re distressed to learn that their daughter Polly has pledged herself to the dangerous Mack the Knife (Michael Park, as threatening as a maître d’), who runs his own crew of scoundrels and whoremongers. We’re never certain of Mackie’s motive (beyond boredom). He already is shacking up with the prostitute Jenny (Sally Murphy, who delivers “Pirate Jenny” with rock star mannerisms) and diddling Lucy Brown (Lilly Cooper), the police chief’s daughter.
 
Clarke, a former pop dancer out of Pilobolus, is all about image and nothing about text. Overpraised and overrated since Vienna: Lusthaus, she has yet to show any aptitude for staging musicals. So the memorable moments here are static: semi-nude prostitutes languishing in dark corners, a bulldog slobbering over a passed-out street urchin, furtive couplings implied behind hazy tenement windows.
 
Robert Israel’s anachronistic, angular, monochrome set incomprehensibly remands the superb onstage band behind a doorway. The resulting disembodied sound (by Clive Goodwin) is ruinous and ridiculous in this intimate theater. Donna Zakowska’s costumes are a hotchpotch. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting stands out for its brittle gilding shimmer.
 
Osnes communicates as much with her eyes and arms as with her voice. When she takes command of the show, singing Polly’s gorgeous “Barbara Song” in the first act and, later, outclassing Lucy in the “Jealousy Duet,” this still life with beggars staggers briefly to life.

 


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