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HALL OF FAMEon November 11, 2003
THE THREEPENNY OPERA is indeed Weill and Brecht's masterpiece. The darkly humorous, anarchic and gritty musical has influenced many works throughout the ensuing decades (a recent example being URINETOWN). The now-legendary 1954 off-Broadway revival at the Theatre de Lys is still agruably the greatest production of THREEPENNY, which featured new lyrics translated by Marc Blitzstein (JUNO).
Decca Broadway's reissue of the cast album is average, though. Several dropouts and surface hiss are slightly off-putting to the ear.
Lotte Lenya plays the role of the streetwalker Jenny Diver, and her rendition of "Pirate Jenny" is one of the two major highlights from the set. The other highlight is Bea Arthur's portrayal of Lucy Brown; her reading of "Barbara Song" is full of grit and she belts it in grand style.
Jo Sullivan (who would later marry Frank Loesser) gives a sparkling performance as Polly Peachum, joining Bea Arthur for the caustic "Jealousy Duet". Scott Merrill adds his silvery voice to the menacing "Mack the Knife". The cast also features Charlotte Rae and Martin Wolfson.
Also included is a rare recording of Lotte Lenya singing "Mack the Knife", accompanied by Marc Blitzstein at the piano.
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on April 8, 2002
This is an excellent recording, marred only by the fact that the record company forced Blitzstein to censor a number of the lyrics, including some of the best and brightest ones. If you've seen a stage production of this play, you may be disappointed by the toning-down of the lyrics on this.
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on August 29, 2000
At last, the groundbreaking 1954 off-broadway cast recording is available. Bea Arthur and Lotte Lenya give stand-out performances. All-in-all a superb rendition of this stunning score with a very accessible translation by Marc Blitztein. Everyone has their favorite but, for me, this version gives a much more "raw" and "authentic" interpretation, on par with (if not better than) the Lincoln Center production (with Raul Julia as Mack -- which one hopes will also be on CD soon) and certainly more engaging than the Donmar Warehouse version. If you haven't heard this one yet, give it a try.
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VINE VOICEon February 6, 2007
I've been looking for this CD for years (I played my LP to groovy death). I'm overjoyed. It's conventional wisdom these days to knock the Blitzstein translation of Dreigroschenoper as tamer than the Brecht original. So what we get instead are closer to Brecht's literal meaning and a long way from his wit. Blitzstein is the only translator so far to actually produce decent lyrics in English. His translation is freer, in both senses of the word, though it's still pretty close to Brecht. Furthermore, it actually gets the blood racing. Add to this a terrific performance, headed by Weill's widow, keeper of the flame, and one of the greatest actress of the 20th century, Lotte Lenya and including Jo Sullivan, Bea Arthur, John Astin, a host of others, and a crisp, brash chamber ensemble, all wonderfully seedy, and you have the finest English recording of this visionary score.
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What a find! To hear the original 1954 cast of this show is such a treat. To hear actresses like Charlotte Rae and Bea Arthur, now best known for mediocre 1970s and 80s sitcoms, performing in their prime- well, that alone is worth the price of the album.
The feel of this production is, I suspect, very close to the plays Brech and Weill were writing back in Germany in the Weimar days- certainly more so than attempts to recreate it in shows like "Cabaret". And the sound of the remastered recording is absolutely stunning- close your eyes and you're sitting there in the front row of a tiny off-broadway theater, listening to the show unfold before you.
And the music- well, these are songs that are still being recorded and interpereted by artists today. Sting's version of Mack the Knife. Stan Ridgeway's "Army Song".
What else can I say? Buy it.
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on December 17, 2007
I happen to think this is a grand performance and the Blitzstein lyrics right on target, but forget all that for a moment and consider this:

This Theater de Lys program captivated a young and very hip New York City audience for three significant years---from 1954 to '57. There are two basic elements here that I find terribly important.

First, the essentially hostile attitude of the performers toward their public. When I saw it I recall the musicians coming out and actually thumbing their noses at the audience. Hey Mick Jagger, were you there by any chance? I assumed this was part of the atmosphere of the first production in Berlin back in the pre-Nazi Weimar days. But why was that relevant to New Yorkers in the "silent generation" 1950s?

Secondly, there is the basic concept around which the entire work is constructed---The poor, the hopeless, the great unwashed, taking to the streets in all their wretchedness to confront and seek to embarass and humiliate the establishment (read U.S. federal government instead of British Royalty). And of course the goal is to make it coincide with an important establishment politicaal event: Coronation Day.

Does anyone still remember the opening of the New York World's Fair in the mid-sixties? THe reverend Al Sharpton's threats of violence in the streets meant almost no one turned out to see or hear Lyndon Johnson's appearance at the World's Fair site.

Given the time frame, this version of the Threepenny Opera was more than prescient. It helpled create the methodology for the anti-war and pro-civil rights demos that followed just a few years later. Quite an achievement for an off broadway version of a 30 year old German musical comedy!
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on December 17, 2000
Finally the original New York cast recording has been made available on CD! All I can say is that this is one of the greatest theatrical works that I have ever been exposed to, and I can't believe that I can finally listen to it on CD as opposed to my original vinyl copy. Also, the chilling bonus track of "Mack the Knife" featuring Lotte Lenya on vocals and Marc Blitzstein on piano makes buying this score all over again well worth it. The re-release of the Threepenny Opera is not to be missed.
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on February 23, 2006
I remember when this show was playing off Broadway at the Theater de Lys on Christopher Street in NYC. I purchased the album on LP (MGM label) way back then, which I lost along the way and replaced with another LP issued on a different label. This one went the way of all discs too, so I finally located this CD.

The performance is just as wonderful as I remember it. This show is truly a landmark in American theater. In it are pre-fame appearances of Charlotte Rae and Bea Arthur and both are superb! Everybody in the cast gets into the spirit of the piece and the result is a funny and mildly caustic collection of irony and social commentary.

One negative: The sound quality is not as clear as it was on the LP versions. Especially noticeable is the loss of initial consonants and consonants generally, throughout the piece. This points up one of the shortcomings of digital remastering.

Otherwise, buy it and enjoy it! Great music, great theater!
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on September 6, 2010
I have owned and listened to this recording longer than most of the readers of these words have been alive. I got it in 1956 shortly after it was released. It is still one of the things I listen to most. Lotte Lenya and Bea Arthur, who shared a dressing room, became close friends and while the Barbara Song is not for Bea Arthur's character, one can rejoice that the production played it that way. It of course had Lenya's approval since she owned the music--she was Weill's widow and Weill died in 1950. Arthur's performance still makes me weak in the knees and Lenya's Pirate Jenny which Weill gave the Jenny character early in the original production is simply sublime--Polly's song was reprised in the second act by Jenny, and Lenya sang it in the Pabst film. Recorded music just does not get better than this. Every member of the cast is perfect. I still hear the Frau Peachum's music in Charlotte Rae's voice.

And it is still selling almost 60 years later. I love the German version Lenya later recorded but on the whole this production is totally satisfying and reintroduced Weill to the world. He had already been almost forgotten. In the USA because he wrote only broadway musicals which had faded and in Europe because the NAZI's had destroyed most of the original plates and recordings. So the European recording were still unknown here. Fortunately copies were found and still sold. But this is the original English production starring Weill's widow of whom he wrote: "my music comes to my ear in Lenya's voice.' The recording should be in every library. There are several original German recordings, but this recording is still the most satisfying. Incidentally, the recording was reviewed in the 1950's High Fidelity Magazine. The critic-- I recall reading --called it one of the great recording in existence. it simply is that. I think it is the recording in my extensive classical library that I love most.
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on May 27, 2006
I love the "directly off the stage," unhyped qulity of the recording. I just watched the Studio 54 version and I'm grateful they did it. But Lenya & co. got them beat 90 ways. I'm pretty sure this must have been the version that thrilled me when I heard it in a Berkeley CA apt. during 1961 spring break from UCLA.
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