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  • Angela Allyn

An Opera for Beggars

It was a bit of life meeting art when I had to thread a series of panhandlers to get to the Howard Street front door of Theo Ubique’s intimate cabaret street for a sterling production of The Three Penny Opera,Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s dark tale of love and criminality. Originally based on The Beggars Opera by John Gay, the show premiered in Berlin in 1928 and was meant to be a critique of capitalism, and an entertainment cheap enough for beggars to afford. It is a masterpiece that has a long performance history in many countries, and it is truly a must see show because it’s social commentary has resonances even as our culture wars warp the so called rule of law.

Our antihero Mack the Knife, brilliantly brought to life in charismatic unscrupulousness by Carl Herzog, marries another innocent (golden voiced Chamaya Moody as naive Polly Peachum) and her outraged parents have him charged with hangable crimes, only to see him pardoned and knighted by the queen as an act of charity at her coronation. Along the way crimes are committed, we see the police are corrupt, and Mackie has lots of women loving and betraying him, most compelling of which is Jenny played by Liz Bollar. It’s not an uplifting tale, but it drips truth about how people scrabble for one upmanship and how you can never trust anyone. There are betrayals all around.

Director Fred Anzevino clearly loves this work and has crafted a wonderful evening of song and story. Choreographer Jenna Shoppe maneuvers the cast through the tables and seats so that we are in the midst of it all. The fantastic ensemble work supported by music director and pianist Ryan Brewster, on stage behind his tasseled upright, gives a Weimer air of the world as we know it slipping away even as this crew is making the best of bad situations. Especially notable is Megan Elk as Mrs. Peachum in full commedia dell’arte glory so that the entire endeavor has the air of a political cartoon. Grant Carriker provides comic relief with his physically funny portrayals of Filch and the questionable Reverend Kimball.

This Three Penny is practically perfect, for the aficionado and the newbie. You may feel uncomfortable at how much you enjoy this sordid tale of petty crooks, ladies with no other options and creepy exploiters, but you will be glad you spent the evening in their company, perhaps with a cocktail ordered from Jenny's bar.

The Three Penny Opera is playing at the Theo Ubique, 721 Howard Street, Evanston IL, Thursdays through Sundays until April 30, 2023. For tickets and information go to

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