By D. A. Blackburn
With a philandering brute central to all the action, rampant poverty on the streets and deep-rooted corruption at every turn, it’s easy to draw comparisons between the Victorian London of “The 3 Penny Opera” and the Detroit of today. In its latest production, The Theatre Company at University of Detroit Mercy puts these similarities at the forefront of its interpretation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s well-known musical, but sadly, the result is a rather tepid evening of theater.
The largest of the production’s faults stem from strict licensing of the script by R & H Theatricals, which demands that the work’s text not be altered or modernized. At the outset, audiences are instructed to disregard references to the work’s true setting, and accept that this production is set firmly in Detroit between 1974 and the present.
A series of video projections has been created to establish this new setting, but lacking continuity, and covering too wide a range of time, they leave the work – and UDM’s message – floundering, unanchored in time and without a true thematic compass.
Moreover, the production is plagued by a decidedly poor balance in casting. There are good performances, to be sure – the show’s lone Equity cast member, Greg Trzaskoma, shines as J. J. Peachum, with a great acting and a warm baritone – but throughout the cast, many performers lack the chops to handle Weill’s music, and give uneven performances.
This problem is particularly evident in the most important role, Macheath. Sam Brice is a nice fit for the role, physically, but on opening night he lacked the vocal confidence in many critical moments. Likewise, his acting is hit-or-miss, at times solid, at others, chained to the text. Much the same can be said of other cast members, and juxtaposed against strong showings by Trzaskoma, Joel Frazee, Chris Jakob and Angel Shakespeare, their flaws are magnified.
The intent of this production is both admirable and intriguing, but unfortunately, this is one “3 Penny Opera” that just doesn’t add up.
‘The 3 Penny Opera’
UDM Theatre Company at Marygrove College Theatre, 8425 W. McNichols Rd, Detroit. Friday-Sunday through April 5. $16-$20. 313-993-3270. http://theatre.udmercy.edu