'The Threepenny Opera' benefits from a smart staging
Glass slippers are fine but it’s really refreshing to see Laura Osnes, who established herself as a major Broadway talent in saccharine Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals like “Cinderella” and “South Pacific,” entering a shadowy underworld setting.
She joins Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham in director-choreographer Martha Clarke’s smart and sexy staging of “The Threepenny Opera,” Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s confrontational 1928 social satire with songs, at the Atlantic Theater Company.
Set in Victorian England and inspired by Weimar Germany, the carefree lifestyle of the notorious criminal MacHeath (Michael Park) is compromised after he marries the young Polly Peachum (Osnes), whose cutthroat father (Abraham) controls the city's beggar population.
Clarke, who is best known for multidisciplinary work that combines art, dance and drama, embraces the signature touches of German expressionism and Brecht’s epic theater, where audience members are constantly reminded they are watching a play, but without going overboard. The singing is generally underpowered, but that adds to this production’s genuinely jagged feel and dissonant sound.
Whereas contemporary translations of the original German text tend to be excessively vulgar, Clarke uses the famous, comparatively lighter Mark Blitzstein (“The Cradle Will Rock”) version, which became the basis of a hit Off-Broadway revival in the 1950s.
Park makes for an imposing MacHeath while Osnes embraces a heightened theatricality in each of her scenes. Abraham, joined by Mary Beth Peil as his wife, offers a droll presence. Sally Murphy, who is both physically and emotionally exposed as MacHeath’s former lover Jenny, leaves a lingering impression, especially during her haunting rendition of “Pirate Jenny.”
But the real standout in this cast may just be the bulldog that licks up a motionless body in the opening scene and later returns as a stand-in for royalty.
“The Threepenny Opera” plays at the Atlantic Theater Company through May 11. 336 W. 20th St., atlantictheater.org.