Three Penny Opera

[Updated: August 19, 2000]

Three Penny Opera poster Lunt-Fontanne Theater Sting makes a foray onto the Broadway stage in 3 Penny Opera (1989), playing the charming Victorian-era London criminal Macheath (Mack the Knife), in the classic 1928 German musical work by Bertholt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Perhaps best summed up by the lyric, "First the feeding, then the moral code," 3 Penny Opera is an anticapitalist statement by the Marxist lyricist Brecht, which asserts (often with biting, ironic humor) that it is impossible to expect a disenfranchised underclass to abide by societal mores when the short end of capitalist competition leaves them without food or shelter.

As a songwriter, Sting has a history—like Brecht—of using pop music as a vehicle for information, sometimes political, and—like Weill—of creating seductive songs that hide dark messages beneath their romantic melodies. Sting has long been an admirer of Brecht and Weill. In 1985, he recorded "The Ballad of Mack the Knife" for a Weill tribute album titled Lost in the Stars, and in 1987 he performed several songs (in their original German) with the Hamburg State Orchestra under conductor Eberhard Schoener. Thus it seemed like a perfect match when Hollywood film producer Jerome Hellman (Midnight Cowboy) signed Sting to play Macheath, and then paired him with Tony Award-winning director John Dexter (M. Butterfly, Equus).

Sting, Georgia Brown and Maureen McGovern at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway

During a four-week pre-Broadway run at the National Theater in Washington, 3 Penny Opera was attended by then-President George Bush and his wife—an ironic audience, considering that the play’s message has at least a note of resonance in contemporary American life, if not as much as it did in 1928 Berlin, where it originally premiered. From the nation’s capitol, 3 Penny Opera went on to Broadway. Although Clive Barnes of the New York Post offered a glowing review, the play was quickly sideswiped by influential New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, whose sour review proved to be a decisive blow in sending 3 Penny Opera to its New Year’s Eve demise.

National Theater, Washington (September 14 - October 8 1989)

Lunt-Fontanne Theater, New York (November 5 -December 31 1989)

Three Penny Opera

Produced by: Jerome Hellman

In association with Haruki Kadokawa and

James M. Nederlander

Book and lyrics by: Bertolt Brecht

Music by: Kurt Weill

Translated by: Michael Feingold

Directed by: John Dexter


Ballad Singer Ethyl Eichelberger
Jenny Diver Suzzanne Douglas
Peachum Alvin Epstein
Filch Jeff Blumenkrantz
Mrs. Peachum Georgia Brown
Polly Peachum Maureen McGovern
Macheath Sting
Matt of the Mint Josh Mostel
Crook-Finger Jack Mitchell Greenberg
Sawtooth Bob David Schechter
Ed Phillip Carroll
Walter Tom Robbins
Jimmy Alex Santoriello
Tiger Brown Larry Marshall
Smith David Pursley
Lucy Kim Criswell


Musical Staging Peter Gennaro
Music Director Julius Rudel

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