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Photo Credit :: Sara Krulwich
Arts & Entertainment
The Threepenny Opera at Studio 54
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
June 16, 2006 
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While the latest New York incarnation of The Threepenny Opera, now playing at Studio 54, threatens at times to become a pastiche of the best of the Ziegfeld Follies rather than to coalesce into a cohesive whole, there’s still reason to seek a seat at this nearly sold-out run. And primarily, that reason is Kurt Weill’s magnificently haunting score. And particularly when sung by Nellie McKay. And also Cyndi Lauper. And Jim Dale. And Ana Gasteyer. And, yes, Alan Cumming too. There’s no question that the five leads have charisma and lung power and interpretive skills – and nearly all of their solos resonate, and more than a few of their duets as well. And to see Jim Dale’s rubber-faced and slithery-graceful performance is to have some idea of what Weill and Bertolt Brecht were intending in writing their caustic cautionary tale about the underbelly of capitalism.

Written during the Weimar period, and first performend in Germany between the two World Wars, Weill and Brecht’s brittle and sardonic masterpiece might seem to have particular relevance during this moment in American history when the US Express train seems to have slipped the tracks. The story of Macheath and the characters who populate his underworld heralds a dystopic society where bitterness and betrayal is the legal tender and honor has lost all value. And rarely has the loss of what was once good been more heartbreakingly articulated than when Macheath and Jenny sing “The Ballad of the Pimp.” An ode to lost happiness, and to what might have been, except now it’s too late – and instead, fate has had its way, numbing each of the characters and leaving them nearly disembodied.

Only Polly Peachum exudes a kind of youthful hope, and as played by Nellie McKay, she’s a revelation in understanding how it is that the young maintain resilience in the face of adversity: blind faith a part of it, and the will to achieve another – and McKay makes the hunger of the young – for success, for domestic bliss – reason enough to go on loving, even if cynically. Polly Peachum’s no dummy, not in this production. Neither blinded by love, nor an innocent, Polly’s a mistress of feminine wiles and confident enough in her machinations to get the results she desires. She is the future: the offspring of greed and corruption made presentable in the next generation.

And whether one leaves Studio 54 with the image of a neon horse and gold-lamé cowboy descending from that fabled ceiling (thereby evoking memories of the moon and the coke spoon) or of Cyndi Lauper’s rueful rendition of “Solomon Song,” there’s enough of interest in this production to remind one that as long as money, sex, and corruption exist, Weill and Brecht’s satire of the human condition will never go out of style.