If it is in fact true that the two presidential candidates each spent as much as a billion dollars in campaigning for this week's election, then a cliche should lend itself perfectly in describing Bertolt Brecht's 1928 musical "The Threepenny Opera": as relevant today as it was when it was written.
Sadly, the same could undoubtedly have been said when Brecht and composer Kurt Weill decided to adapt the musical from John Gay's 18th century ballad opera titled "The Beggar's Opera."
Brecht was a poet, playwright, director and theater theorist writing and working in a tumultuous, post-World War I Germany.
'The Threepenny Opera,' a co-production between Lycoming College's theatre and music departments, will play at the Mary L. Welch Theatre at 8 p.m. from Nov. 14 to 17. The play contains adult language and situations and is recommended for mature audiences. For tickets or more information, call 321-4048 or visit www.lycoming.edu/theatre.
"Many consider [Brecht] one of the most influential theater theorists of the 20th century," said J. Stanley, a professor of theater at Lycoming College and the director of the school's upcoming performance of "The Threepenny Opera." Among those who felt Brecht's influence was Adolf Hitler; Brecht (along with Weill) was forced out of Germany by Hitler's "Sieze of Power" in 1933.
At its core, the musical is "an indictment of capitalism," Stanley said, but to stop there would be a disservice to Brecht, Weill and the musical. Brecht challenged the mores and conventions of then-contemporary theatre and its ever-popular realism.
"[He] felt that realism allows the audience to get into a complacent sort of fantasyland, where they are totally absorbed in the world of the play," Stanley said, "And then they can walk out, close the door on the theater and just forget."
Brecht saw theater as more antibiotic than opiate - or, better yet, an invasive surgery meant to open and to extract something malignant.
"He wanted the theater to inspire people to action," Stanley said, "And 'The Threepenny Opera' is the perfect example of the kind of play he felt could be a vehicle for social change."
The play centers around Macheath, a criminal in Victorian London who will be played by Joshua Troxler. Macheath (better known as "Mack" or "Mack the Knife," but more on that later) marries Polly Peachum, played by Molly Collier. Dramatic tension stems from the fact that Polly's father is quite displeased with her marrying Macheath, and conspires to get him arrested and hanged. In the style of the "epic theater" of Brecht's own invention, complete with stark lighting and an exposed backstage, Stanley said she set out to "push the ugly" with this production.
"Brecht wants the audience to experience the backstage life of the production at the same time they're experiencing the on-stage world of the play," Stanley said.
Dr. Gary Boerckel will direct an element of "The Threepenny Opera" that spans the backstage and the onstage: the music. Boerckel has been working with the actors on their vocal performances, as well as preparing the eight-piece musical ensemble that will provide the musical's soundtrack. Making up Boerckel's orchestra will be Jeff Chubb, Mike Damiani, Dawn Doll, BJ Hickey, Deron Johnson, Yvonne Mitchell-Sarch, Eddie Severn and Curtis Tyler. Boerckel explained that just as "The Beggar's Opera" used ballads over the more traditional operatic arias being used at the time, "Brecht and Weill opted to use the music that was popular at their time like the tango from Brazil, and jazz and popular singing from America and they wove these styles together into a work that has become a model of its type."
Probably the best-known and most celebrated piece from "The Threepenny Opera" is one called "Mack the Knife." The piece is performed early in the musical and serves as something of an introduction to the character of Macheath. Since 1928, the song has been recorded by artists like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Bobby Darin and even the Doors. Although Boerckel has retired from Lycoming College's music department, he was involved for more than 10 years in no-less-than 30 productions that "utilized the talents of both the theater and music departments of Lycoming College."
Nowhere is the symbiosis that exists between the college's two departments displayed more than in productions like "The Threepenny Opera." Perhaps most enticing about the production is the concept of being able to "see the strings" (and lights and backstage). At a time when so much emphasis is put on entertainment-via-distraction and "image" as a marketing (or campaigning) ploy, it's refreshing to find something that has been stripped down so far that you can see it for exactly what it is - and it doesn't hurt that it's damn entertaining, either.
"The Threepenny Opera," a co-production between Lycoming College's theater and music departments, will play at the Mary L. Welch Theater at 8 p.m. from Nov. 14 to 17. The play contains adult language and situations and is recommended for mature audiences.
For tickets or more information, call 321-4048 or visit www.lycoming.edu/theatre.