The 100th anniversary of the birth of late Off-Broadway producer Lucille Lortel will be celebrated with a benefit reunion concert of the legendary 1954 staging of The Threepenny Opera, Dec. 18 at the Lortel Theatre in Greenwich Village.
The Theatre de Lys, later called the Lortel after the theatre owner-producer, was the site of the famous American premiere of the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical. The staging was one of several productions that helped put the idea of "Off-Broadway" on the map. It remains one of the longest-running shows in Off-Broadway history.
At the 8 PM event, original cast members Bea Arthur, Charlotte Rae, Jo Sullivan and William Duell will be joined by Robert Cuccioli and George S. Irving, among others. The evening will benefit the Actors' Fund of America.
Threepenny Opera had its American premiere March 10, 1954, at the Theatre De Lys, 121 Christopher Street, in Manhattan.
Arthur will take the role of Jenny, originally performed by Weill's widow, Lotte Lenya, while the others will re-create their original roles. Cuccioli (late of Jekyll & Hyde) plays Macheath, singing "Mack the Knife," and George S. Irving, who joined the original production, will play Mr. Peachum. Rae is Mrs. Peachum, Sullivan is Polly Peachum. Donald Saddler will stage. Glen Clugston is musical director, using the original Kurt Weill orchestrations as heard at the De Lys in 1954. Composer-lyricist Marc Blitzstein (The Cradle Will Rock) adapted the Bertolt script and lyrics for the 1954 staging. It became the longest running Off-Broadway show until The Fantasticks. The musical is a social satire — some call it a morality fable — based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera.
Sullivan, Scott Merrill and future TV stars Bea Arthur, John Astin and Charlotte Rae also performed in the original cast.
This concert performance coincides with two Kurt Weill milestones: the 100th anniversary of his birth in 1900, and the 50th anniversary of his premature death in 1950, as well the 100th anniversary of Lortel's birthday.
At the De Lys, Threepenny had a brief 1954 run of 95 performances that sold out, thanks to critic Brooks Atkinson's attention. It closed to allow a scheduled staging to play there, and then reopened 15 months later, in 1955, and ran five years, playing 2,611 performances.
Tickets for the benefit evening are $100. Proceeds go to The Actors' Fund, the human service organization for the entertainment community. Call (212) 221-7300, ext. 203.
The cast album of the 1954 production was re-released on CD by Decca in August 2000. An added track has Lenya warbling "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" accompanied by Blitzstein on piano. The live performance is from an audio tape of the obscure, short-lived TV series, "Polly and Jerry," starring Polly Bergen and her then-husband Jerome Courtland. There apparently were other songs on that program, but they are not heard in the disc.
The remastered cast album includes performers John Astin, Lotte Lenya, Bea Arthur, Charlotte Rae, William Duell, Jo Sullivan, Scott Merrill, Martin Wolfson, Gerald Price and George Tyne.
In addition to a synopsis of the show, the booklet includes a brief education about the groundbreaking work (Die Dreigroschenoper in the original German, in 1928) in an essay by David Farneth, director of the Weill-Lenya Research Center.
The show is set in Victorian London, where outlaw Macheath marries Polly, daughter of a Soho underworld leader. Betrayed by his in-laws, he goes to prison and meets Lucy, who sets him free, but he again finds himself arrested. Songs from the score include "Wedding Song," "Pirate Jenny," "Army Song," "Love Song," "Ballad of the Easy Life," "Barbara Song," "Jealousy Duet," "Solomon Song," "Useless Song."
— By Kenneth Jones