Robert Wilson's gorgeous Berliner Ensamble production of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's classic The Threepenny Opera premiered at BAM last night and it was everything that the Roundabout's dreadful 2006 revival was not: sexy, stylish and very, very German. At three hours the show is a little long (Wilson is a big fan of highly-stylized slow movements*) but it really doesn't matter when the material is this good. And the pitch-black satire that defines Threepenny remains vibrant and relevant more than 80 years after it first premiered in Berlin. If you are lucky enough to catch this production before it leaves BAM at the end of the week, you're sure to walk out humming...and wishing that some soul would take another stab at bringing Mac the Knife back here for a longer run. But maybe in English next time?
Wilson stages his Threepenny mostly in shades of black and white. Except for a few notable flashes of red, the set is entirely made up of vertical, horizontal and diagonal white lights which accentuate the characters ghostly makeup and elaborately structured black costumes (made by Jacques Reynaud, who produces the exaggerated Weimar style looks that Isaac Mizrahi was trying desperately for at the Roundabout). The German ensemble is incredibly game and in sync with the style of the show and each other, telegraphing every line with their bodies so that even when BAM's supertitles get a little wonky you know exactly what is going on. And really, no matter what language it is in, it is hard not to tap your toes to the cannibalistic "Army Song" or the nasty "Jealousy Duet" or be moved by standards like "Pirate Jenny," "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" and "How To Survive."
As a non-German speaker, however, the supertitles are the biggest problem with Wilson's production. Brecht's script about the polyamorous psychopath Mac the Knife, his prostitutes and pals, and the rest of the eighteenth century London underworld is so engaging that it can be very difficult to keep switching from supertitles to Wilson's staging. There are worse problems to have! Also, fair warning: If you've grown up listening to the landmark 1950 recording (Wallace Shawn translation).
But small quibbles aside, this is an intriguing production of an unimpeachable show. In the age of banking bandits, super-Ponzi schemers and Wall Street occupiers the world can use what Brecht and Weill are peddling.
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House // October 4—8, 7:30 p.m.
* There is nothing wrong with Wilson's style—it is very stylish—but between that and a few of his more forced choices here it can be hard not to think of things like this: