photo by tony rodrigues

by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
First Coast Opera opened the second production of its 10th season with The Three Penny Opera on the stage of the New Ponte Vedra High School Auditorium. Written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Curtis Powell is Musical Director and Randall Adkison is Director. The production will continue January 29, 30 at 7:30 p.m. and conclude January 31 with a 2:30 p.m. matinee. Call 417-5555 to order tickets; a real bargain at $22 in advance or $ 25.00 at the door.
The Three Penny Opera is not an opera in the traditional sense, despite its title. Most operas are almost totally in song, with little or no dialogue. Three Penny has as much if not more spoken word as dialogue in song. Also the brilliant score by Kurt Weill is music that has been described as German cabaret music of the 1930s, and I have to agree.
This musical opened on Broadway in 1933, and has been done again and again over the years for two reasons. It is unique and cutting edge and most importantly it has a hit song. “Mack the Knife” which was a big hit by Bobby Darin, and is still done by various vocalists.
A street singer, played by Joseph Walz opens the show singing its most successful song, “Mack the Knife”. In fact he is the only one who sings it. And he acts as a narrator from time to time to advance the action, which is set at the time of Queen Victoria’s coronation.
A very simple plot summary would say: Mack the Knife presides over an unprincipled but colorful world of thieves, murderers, beggars, prostitutes, and corrupt officials in a seedy section of London, and narrowly escapes death by hanging.
Adam Mayo is J. J. Peachum, kingpin of the beggars. Mayo is a veteran of many First Coast Opera productions and is very convincing in this role. It is good to have the excellent voice of Laura Adkison back on stage again in a leading role as Peachum’s tough wife Celia. This production has a peach of a Polly, the Peachum’s daughter, in Daisy Miller, who builds on the excellent impression she made as Luisa in The Fantasticks at Orange Park Community Theatre.
St. Augustine native Bo Strange is impressive as Sheriff Brown, the scourge of London. Miranda Lawson, one of the most sought-after talents in local musical theatre, repeats the role of the perfidious prostitute Jenny Diver that she performed in this same show at Jacksonville University. Lucy Brown, another of Macheath’s ladies is played by Elizabeth Bricknell, making her theatre debut in North Florida. Ms. Bricknell has a wonderful voice and stage presence and I am sure you will be seeing more of her in the future. Jeffrey Wells is Charles Filch, a beggar new to Peachham’s stable, who is given instruction, new clothing, and his own territory in exchange for 50% of his take.
Juan Carlos Unzueta is superb as Macheath, looking both sexy and personally menacing in his dapper clothing while singing to perfection the songs of this splendid score. You may even find yourself liking Macheath despite the fact the lyrics clearly portray him as an arsonist, rapist and child-murder.
Director Adkison has cast an excellent assortment of fallen women, beggars, thieves and policeman, and you will be able to figure out who they are by their costumes. They have excellent voices as well in the ensemble chorus numbers. They include Colleen Flint, Kate Flint, Lance Henry, Nash Hightower, Katie LaDuca, Jessica Palombo, Steve Peano, Beka Price, Kathryn Timoney and Daniel Vargas.
The staging uses the back wall as a giant projection screen, with occasional subtitles of significant utterings by the cast , and subdued images that visually give you an idea of old London. Since this is a school auditorium and used every day for classes, no permanent sets could be built so set pieces depicting a stable, a banquet, and a gallows are brought on and off by the efficient stage crew.
This is a brand new school, and the auditorium seats are quite comfortable, but it was not really designed for theatre and being so large, some of the spoken dialogue gets lost so I would advise you to go early and get a seat in the first few rows (seating is open). The excellent orchestra is led by Curtis Powell on piano, with Rob Worthington on keyboard, David Draper on guitar, and Michael Tillis providing the percussion. They are on stage but up against the rear wall and never overpower the excellent singing voices.
Don’t miss this production. It has some of the best voices I have heard this season. The Three Penny Opera is fast paced, and even with two short intermissions runs just a bit over two hours. Additionally, it’s not done often in Jacksonville, and it may be several years before you have another opportunity.
The school is located off Highway 210 that runs between US 1 South and Ponte Vedra. Turn south on Davis Park Blvd, and it is a short drive to the end, with the auditorium being to the right side of this large building.