Open Fist Theatre isn't the first company that springs to mind when one thinks of likely producers of musical theatre revivals. Yet the caustic social satire and edgy eccentricity of this 1928 Bertolt Brecht–Kurt Weill masterpiece—considered avant-garde upon its debut—-proves a serendipitous match with a group dedicated to adventurous and eclectic fare. Musically, intellectually, and theatrically, director R. Charles Otte's production is a spellbinding entertainment.
Adapter-lyricist Brecht and composer Weill based their German-language musical on John Gay's 1727 The Beggars' Opera. Their adaptation has undergone many permutations over the years, including the legendary 1954 Broadway production adapted by Marc Blitzstein (The Cradle Will Rock), featuring Lotte Lenya, Charlotte Rae, and Bea Arthur. Otte's staging ingeniously employs the framing device of a 1928 German cabaret in which Gay's gritty Victorian dark comedy plays out, creating a provocative milieu of thieves, whores, and beggars mingling in a cutthroat society, filtered through the sensibility of decadent Weimar-era Berlin. The magnificent score overflows with wry comic numbers, powerful ballads, and scathing social commentary. It's fascinating to make note of the countless influences on musicals to follow: everything from Chicago to Urinetown. The triple-threat cast, choreographer Kitty McNamee, music director Dean Mora, and his eight-member onstage band triumphantly mine the score for its treasure trove of splendors.
The ensemble is flawless. As the fearsome gang leader Macheath, Bjørn Johnson gives a riveting portrayal, bristling with menace, humor, and sexual tension. Equally strong is David Castellani's colorful take on the corrupt businessman Mr. Peachum, who manipulates a ring of street-urchin thieves. The two-timing Macheath's love interests, Lucy Brown and Polly Peachum, are beautifully realized in spirited characterizations by Rebecca Metz and Josie Gundy, respectively. Also splendid are Pam Heffler, as Polly's tough-as-nails mother, and Tish Hicks as the world-weary hooker Jenny. The design elements (sets by Bill Eigenbrodt and Meghan Rogers, costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, sound by Peter Carlstedt, lighting by Otte, and props by Melanie Chapman and Heffler) nail the historic Brechtian style in all of its idiosyncratic brilliance. This shimmering production—Open Fist's last in its Hollywood facility—should not be missed.
"The Threepenny Opera," presented by and at the Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Apr. 30-Jun. 12. $20. (323) 882-6912.