The new Roundabout Theatre Company staging features a commissioned translation and adaptation by the director's frequent collaborator, playwright-actor Wallace Shawn.
Leaving the scribe to do his job at first, Elliott told Playbill.com he then workshopped the newer take on the classic "Mack the Knife" tale. He has since endured the "long process" of "honing" the work with Shawn. "[With] this particular translation, because it's Wallace Shawn and he speaks German, he was able to go right to the [original text by] Brecht."
Elliott was reluctant, however, to explain his concept. "It's definitely a modern interpretation is what I'll tell you. I don't want to give it away because I can't, I'm still working on it. It hopefully will feel modern and people will go away really understanding it and not find it elusive." Offering a clue to his new staging, he continues, "What has been elusive in all the other translations is the story. But in this one, you will follow the story, you will understand what the Peachums are going through, what Mack and Polly are going through, what Mack's other lover is going through and how he ends up being almost hanged at the end."
What the director and most theatre folk are talking about is the diverse ensemble that makes up the cast of The Threepenny Opera. "It's such an untraditional play, what would be the traditional way to do it?" posed the show's Macheath, Tony Award winner Alan Cumming. "What's best about it is the people assembled to do it are also non-traditional, from all different backgrounds. And not just pop stars, the ensemble is performance artists and drag queens, people from very, very disparate ways and I think that's what makes it so exciting."
Among the stage veterans like Cumming, Christopher Innvar and Tony Award winner Jim Dale are singers Cyndi Lauper and Nellie McKay making their Broadway debuts, "Saturday Night Live" comic-cum-stage star Ana Gasteyer (Rocky Horrow Show), drag divas Flotilla DeBarge and Edie as well as former personal trainer-turned-actor Carlos Leon (Aunt Dan and Lemon). "I tried to get a cross section of humanity really," said Elliott. "In this instance, because they have to sing and dance and act, it's kind of like the cross section of the entertainment community. So it's a very diverse group of people. Everybody in the ensemble are stars in my mind. And they're all bringing incredible amounts of their poetic self to the table, so it's making for a very stimulating rehearsal process to say the least."
For Cumming, his return to the stage is a double blessing. "It means I can be at home for a long time. I'm craving routine in my life right now, so this is perfect," said the star. But, most important for him was the "really meaty" iconic male theatre role of Macheath.
"It's that kind of thing of someone who's really attractive and charismatic, but at the same time, is nasty and does really horrible things. He treats people very poorly and almost gets his come-uppance. I love that notion of trying to play someone who's nasty, but also that people should be attracted to. I think, in a way, I've played a lot of people in films and on stage who are not always very nice but yet people are drawn to them. I enjoy being provocative in that way and playing with people's perceptions."
His co-stars concur: "I'd live on Broadway if I could," exclaimed Dale, who has enjoyed success in other fields. "I don't really want to sign a contract to do a [TV] pilot with the knowledge that if it's successful, I now have seven years of my life to give to them. So, as far as I'm concern, it's all theatre."
TV veteran Gasteyer jokingly confessed to the accusation she used her "Saturday Night Live" gig to get to Broadway. "I did, it's so cheap and obvious. I couldn't make it through a dance call, so I had to get famous first." This role — following a recent leading stint in the Chicago Wicked run — further fulfills her post-SNL dreams: "I definitely had set in my mind that I wanted to, within the first five years out, get a really big role in a Broadway musical. I have to say it's a hard world to penetrate, even as someone who comes from a musical background, you have to earn your stripes."
Self-professed cast album junkie Lauper revels in her newfound post. "I remembered when I was five, always listening to my mom's Broadway cast albums — South Pacific, King and I, Sound of Music — and I did all of them." A favorite of the aspiring youngster was Funny Girl (so much so, she wore it out). "I did Streisand better than her at that time!" shouted Lauper in a grandiose belt before launching into the lyrics of the song "Don't Rain on my Parade."
When questioned about why now is the time to revive the work, Elliott concluded "I think, ultimately, it's always ripe for revival because the message of Threepenny Opera is severe; it's about the corruption of humanity and how men can consume other men. One of the lines in the play is 'The world hasn't changed' and that's from when? And now, don't we still say that? I mean what it's satirizing feels really present." He summed up "It's entertaining, it's funny, but it's biting satire."