Texas Tech University

"The Threepenny Opera" Takes the Stage

Clayton Henriksen

October 25, 2023

The Threepenny Opera

Texas Tech's School of Theatre & Dance is excited to share with audiences, The Threepenny Opera, a play with music based on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. 
The story follows Mack the Knife, a notorious bandit and womanizer, who runs afoul of Jonathan Peachum when he marries Peachum's daughter Polly in a ceremony of doubtful legality. Peachum and his wife commence a series of stratagems to ensnare Mack and send him to the gallows. 

Written in 1928, with a jazzy score by Kurt Weill, Threepenny is one of the most influential works in musical theatre history. Students involved in producing the show have spoken highly of their experience working with director, professor and Bertolt Brecht scholar Dr. Bill Gelber, who recently published a study of Brecht, Engaging with Brecht: Making Theatre in the 21st Century
Second year MFA student Benjamin Smith (Filch/Reverend Kimball) believes that “the most impactful thing about working with Dr. Gelber on The Threepenny Opera is seeing his scholarship of Brecht put into practice.” 
Sophomore BFA musical theatre student Gavin Perez (Jimmy/Policeman), performing in his first role at Texas Tech, goes into some detail about Gelber's process, which mirrors much of what he learned doing his research on the famous playwright: “We started the process by making tableaus, creating images for three or four key moments within scenes. This was really cool, it helped with forming the world of this show which relies so much upon class and status.”
Playing Polly Peachum is junior Caroline Chraska, last seen in Sweet Charity. She articulates the differences between acting in a traditional musical such as Sweet Charity and Threepenny: “This is certainly not your average musical. We won't burst into spontaneous song or dance. Most of our music is performed at the front of the stage with a handheld microphone and does not necessarily advance the plot. This puts pressure on the actors, for sure, but the challenges are exciting!”  
Playing Polly's parents are first year MFA student Robyn Conner and sophomore MFA student Connor Gerhart and rounding out the featured cast is PhD candidate Justin Duncan playing Macheath.
Bill GelberIn a recent interview, Dr. Gelber made it clear that he is bringing his personal passion to Threepenny, using his research to inform the production. As he explained, he derived from Brecht the idea of encouraging character growth through staging tableaus. Gelber goes on to explain that he requires actors to justify their presence before they speak to one another, believing that this extra step “helps tell the story. Actually creating the story before hearing the dialogue truly helps advance the narrative and deepens character development.”
Dr. Gelber last directed Brecht in 2015 when he staged Mother Courage and Her Children on the old Maedgen stage for Texas Tech. He is thrilled to direct Threepenny nearly 95 years after its first performance, believing that the text is just as relevant today: “It shows how people accept their fate, especially influenced by wealth and hierarchy. It tells the familiar story of those one-percenters who have money, not making its way down to the middle and lower classes. This is an all too familiar narrative that applies today far beyond what Brecht would have imagined.”
The production, which features a cast of over twenty students from the School of Theatre and Dance as well as a massive production team, is not to be missed. As Gelber explains, “Above all, Brecht was a satirist, so it's a funny play. The famous playwright does not preach at you; instead, he entertains, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.”
The Threepenny Opera is on stage November 1-5 in the Charles E. Maedgen, Jr. Theatre. Tickets are $20 for individuals and $5 for students with a valid ID. For more information visit the School of Theatre & Dance website.