Threepenny Opera

We recently saw the Roundabout Theater’s revival of Threepenny Opera, starring Alan Cumming, Cyndi Lauper, Ana Gasteyer and Nellie MacKay, while it was in previews. I didn’t love it but I enjoyed it. We ended up with great seats because I had screwed up and bought tickets for a Wednesday show and not the Friday show we were at. So, they gaveus best available, which was halfway back on main level, not up in the balcony, two rows in front of the back wall. Sometimes being an idiot pays off.

I know nothing about Berthold Brecht or previous performances of the show. And all I knew about it beforehand was that “Mac the Knife” came from it and the Bea Arthur was in a 1950s staging of the show. I saw her sing Pirate Jenny in her one-woman show a few years ago. So, I figured it would be pretty dark and baudy; low-brow. But it was far darker and baudier than I expected. And I didn’t get all the preachy moralizing about the criminal class at the end, but whatever… I don’t need to.

The cast was great; a good mix of voices and styles. It was less like watching a show than like watching a bunch of people getting together to put on a show. A review I read recently was highly critical of the production, but the writer found the individual performances praiseworthy, like the actors were all gathered to create for something great and then let down.

But we were there primarily to see Cyndi Lauper — much as we once went to a Cher concert only because she did a set between the forgettable opening act and Cher’s overambitious but entertaining headline performance. (More entertaining were the Cher drag queens in attendance.) She had blue hair. She walked out into the arena audience. It was bliss.

In Threepenny Opera, my girl Cyndi has an A+ voice. I mean, really top form. Total control. Her spine-tingling pipes start out the show from dead, dark silence with the opening song, “Mac the Knife.” I was so happy for her.

I’d have to give her stage acting something closer to a B+. Her lines were fine. She seemed mostly natural, but her timing was clearly off. I wasn’t disappointed, per se. Even though she’s only in three of four scenes. And I think they gave one of the songs she is supposed to sing to Nellie MacKay. Plus, it was in previews, and I’m sure she picked up a few things here and there to improve the part.

Cyndi’s moxie is in her singing voice. She expresses herself through a song. Her voice makes the mood of the lyric. This is why she’s good in a video. As amateurish as it may seem by more current standards, Time After Time can still make me cry. When she’s on that train doing that weird sign language with her hands, saying goodbye to her boyfriend, it’s wrenching. Why is she leaving? Who knows. Who cares? She’s leaving, and thats always the worst thing, right? Simple. Expressive. Real enough. And that RCA dog statue? Genius. Same with Madonna, incidentally, though Madonna has markedly less vocal talent than Cyndi Lauper. I think her best acting was in Evita, which is a two-hour music video.


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