THE THREEPENNY OPERA by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, directed by Tim Albery (Soulpepper). At Young Centre (55 Mill). To March 10. $32-$56, some rush/student tickets. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
As relevant today as when it was written in 20s Germany, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera looks at the arrogant condescension of society's haves and the bitter frustration of its have-nots.
The charming, murderous Macheath (Albert Schultz), king of London's underworld, weds Polly Peachum (Patricia O'Callaghan), distressing her parents (William Webster and Nancy Palk); Macheath's also shtupping Lucy (Jennifer Villaverde), daughter of his good friend police chief Tiger Brown (Stuart Hughes).
In this world of whores, crooks and manipulators - everyone's self-serving - survival depends on cunning as much as a turn of fortune, a fact apparent in the text and Weill's superlative score, which sometimes parodies opera and features catchy tunes intentionally at odds with philosophical, downbeat lyrics.
On Lorenzo Savoini's set (part stage, part butcher's block), director Tim Albery's exuberant Soulpepper production treats the audience as part of this world; the show catches most of the work's ironies but could be darker and grittier still. Schultz is initially suave but not dangerous, though he grows in the part, while O'Callaghan, a fine singing actor, creates a Polly who knows how to be knife-sharp when sweetness doesn't work.
Paul Sportelli's musical direction is expert, though not everyone's specialty is singing. Still, Webster and Palk are compelling actors (her Mrs. Peachum trails an alcoholic haze), and Hughes brings high-spirited flash to Brown.
Other standouts are Soulpepper Academy members Sarah Wilson, whose chilling, troubled Jenny gets the Pirate Jenny ballad usually sung by Polly, and d'bi.young.anitafrika, who gives the Ballad Singer (Mack The Knife) an ambisexual, Caribbean twist. One of the most gratifying moments of the evening is watching her take the evening's final bow along with Schultz.