THREEPENNY UNPLUGGED! Of all the nights I could've seen The Threepenny Opera, it had to be the night that the sound system went out! After a 27-minute delay, the already problematic show went on last night with an advisory that, due to computer trouble, the performers would try to do their best without mikes and the electronic cueing used by the production's small orchestra.
Many audience members cheered the news, but there was still a lot of tension in the air. After all, decades had passed since the age of mike-free belters such as Ethel Merman, when theaters were designed for unamplified singing and musicals were cast with singers who could be heard over full pit orchestras.
Even with this show's ten-member "orchestra" reduced to piano accompaniment, things got off to a shaky start with Cyndi Lauper (who has received compliments for her "raspy voiced" delivery) softly singing the lead in the "Song of the Extraordinary Crimes of Mac the Knife" in what her program bio calls "her maiden voyage" on Broadway. But as the evening progressed (and, I believe, some experimentation with miking took place), the projection (spoken and sung) of leads Lauper, Alan Cumming, Jim Dale, Ana Gasteyer, and Nellie McKay improved, sometimes to an impressive degree. This was especially the case after intermission, when the piano accompaniment grew softer and (I imagine) the more warmed-up performers had been advised as to what was and wasn't working.
The five leads probably weren't cast for their ability to perform without microphones, so I admire their gutsiness in giving it their best shot with a "show must go on" spirit. Everyone came through at some point at least, but the ones who most impressed with their delivery were stage veteran Dale and Ana Gasteyer (who developed a grand singing voice over the course of the evening). I was also impressed by Nellie McKay's performance. I expected it to be quirky, but I was surprised by the type of quirky that it was, redolent of stereotypical "purehearted" heroines of the past. I remain very curious as to where she'll take her peculiar mix of personality and talent.
But what stood out the most for me last evening were the performances of the supporting cast. Without an exception, their delivery was consistently clear back where I sat--the third to last row. The standout among that crowd was Brian Charles Rooney, who plays Lucy Brown. People might have heard of his performance only because of the brief moment when he flashes the audience, but there's much more to his character--and perhaps that came across better under Tuesday night's unusual circumstances. Rooney's operatic "sopranista" filled Studio 54 and his campy acting added electricity to the unplugged evening. There was good comic chemistry in his scenes with McKay, too.
Here's The Playgoer on The Threepenny Opera, with input from Rooney!
Photo: David Marc Fischer