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Bandits and Scoundrels:

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The Threepenny Opera
by Bertolt Brecht
City Stage at Level 5 • 21 N. Front St.
2/10-13, 17-20, 24-27 • 8 p.m.
Tickets: $16-$24 • www.citystagenc.com

Cast members Sophie Amelkin, William Day and Kendra Goehring. Courtesy photo.

“This is about all us bad guys,” Don Baker, director of City Stage’s “The Threepenny Opera,” says. “It’s about scoundrels—like all of us scoundrels.”

Developed to comment on human characteristics, the musical follows the despicable womanizer and criminal Macheath, played by William Day. “Our protagonist is the biggest scoundrel of all,” Baker explains. “He’s an arsonist, murderer, bomber and thief.”

Macheath works for the city’s underworld leader of bandits, Jonathon Jeremiah Peachum (Zack Simcoe). The criminals steal their way through the streets of Victorian London, bringing to Peachum whatever they can find and receiving a cut of the spoils. Macheath does steal one thing he won’t share: the heart of his boss’ daughter, Polly (Sophie Amelkin). Seducing her with his wily ways, she becomes his secret bride.

Of course, secrets never last long. Polly tells her parents of the marriage, and it becomes Mr. Peachum’s end goal to have Macheath hanged. Using his powerful influence, the dirty boss convinces many of Macheath’s longtime friends to turn him in to the police for bribes. “[The other characters] are just as disreputable as he is,” the director comments. “[The play] speaks on changeable human nature.”

Macheath’s experience with betrayal is something Baker believes the audience will be able to identify with. “The Threepenny Opera” focuses on a person’s vulnerability to greed and power, and how these things affect emotions and actions. In addition to its attention toward human psychology, the musical was developed in a time period very similar to what our current society is experiencing.

“It was written in the turmoil leading up to Hitler and the Great Depression,” Baker says. “In today’s economic upheaval, ‘The Threepenny Opera’ is very close to who we are.”

Bertolt Brecht created the play in 1928 as an adaptation of John Gay’s 200-year old “Beggar’s Opera.” Kurt Weill, an avant-garde composer of the ‘20s, developed the musical score for the show. Since, audiences viewed “The Threepenny Opera” both on and off Broadway and in Berlin, Paris and Milan. The show is now considered a classic piece of theatre thanks to its booming success as an entertaining satire.

“I’ve wanted to do this play for 45 years because of its politics and what it speaks about,” Baker says. After a decade of begging City Stage, he finally convinced the venue to take it on. It may be perfect timing for the show, because Baker selected what he feels is an exceptional cast.

“The leads are great,” he notes. “Macheath is a perfect role for William Day because he has that mix of sweetness and danger that he can lay out on stage beautifully. I could not ask for a better Macheath.” The director also believes Zack Simcoe and Cindy Colucci are “magnificent” as Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, and Sophie Amelkin is “spot-on” as Polly.

Helping Baker bring this production to life are choreographer Kevin Lee-y Green and music director Chiaki Ito, who he both cites as “confident professionals.” Green is the artistic director and co-founder of Techmoja Dance and Theatre Company in Wilmington. His skills have been seen in shows like “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Chicago” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” most recently.

Ito has staggering experience with musical theatre, receiving the honors of Best Music Director by Independent Weekly of Raleigh for her involvement in “The Rocky Horror Show.” “The music of ‘The Threepenny Opera’ is strangely dissonant and the melodies unpredicatble,” Ito explains. “The music seems to be influenced by ragtime and jazz and also incorporates operatic style.”

Her work in “The Threepenny Opera” is showcased in the opening scene with the popular jazz tune “Mack the Knife.” Originating from the theatrical piece, Louis Armstrong’s rendition, recorded in 1955, catapulted its fame. But City Stage’s rendition will hang with the best of them.

Poking fun at the faults of humanity, “The Threepenny Opera” is a tragicomedy that will engage the emotions of each audience member. “It has good acting and a good story. [The audience] will have fun, but they’ll also learn who they are,” Baker says.

“The Threepenny Opera” will be at City Stage on the last three weekends of February. The show begins at 8 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday. Tickets will be discounted during a special opening night price: $9.83 (Thursday the 10th, only).

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