Watch out, Bobby Darin -- Mack the Knife is back. Now he's the front man for washed-up London ska band the Highwaymen, trying to make a comeback in a music industry that looks suspiciously like the seamy underworld of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Threepenny Opera. Starting in London and crashing through New York, New Orleans, and Las Vegas to finally land in Texas, Robert LePage's The Busker's Opera is a brash take on fame and villainy that promises, according to a warning at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, something to offend everyone.
The first to be offended were the Brecht and Weill foundations. Finding LePage's original adaptation of Threepenny too freewheeling for their tastes, they shut down the first incarnation of this show after four performances. Which is deliciously ironic, considering Brecht's habit of mining the work of others without attribution or compensation. Threepenny is a retelling of John Gay's 1728 musical satire The Beggar's Opera, the first of the "ballad operas" and a precursor to Gilbert and Sullivan. The Beggar's Opera went gangbusters in London; later it would be the first musical comedy ever produced in New York City.
So, surprised but undaunted, LePage decided to go straight to the source, using Gay's work as the inspiration for a new piece that blends everything from jazz and Broadway show tunes to country, reggae, and tango. Keep an ear out for bits of music from Star Wars, Lost in Space, and Led Zeppelin; LePage takes the same merry liberties with the music of our time that Gay did with the music of his. But where Gay wrote of thieves and pickpockets, LePage skewers music biz executives and hangers-on as he uses ten actors, a fluid set, and projections to tell the story of Macheath's rise and fall.
LePage has an impeccable pedigree. He directs films. Operas. Plays. Rock shows, including two of Peter Gabriel's tours. He acted in arthouse flick Jesus of Montreal. He is working with Cirque du Soleil on its new Vegas show. He runs the Ex Machina theater company. He was the first Canadian to direct Shakespeare at the Royal National Theatre. But lest he seems all highbrow and hoity-toity, it must be mentioned that he also played a bartender in the 1994 Lorenzo Lamas actioner Viper. Which speaks well for his sense of humor and versatility, and doubtless his sense of the ironic in this new show.
The Busker's Opera runs at the Zellerbach Playhouse Friday through Sunday. Tickets are $56 from 510-642-9988 or CalPerfs.Berkeley.edu -- Lisa Drostova
Cal Shakes' Super Scoop
Stage productions don't happen accidentally. If you're curious about California Shakespeare Theater and its production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Part One, join artistic director Jonathan Moscone, along with Cal Shakes' Sean Daniels, Madeleine Oldham, Domenique Lozano, and Susannah Schulmann, and actor Stephen Barker Turner, for their Inside Scoop, and hear from the theatrical pros about the creative process behind Nick (which opens July 13). The free Monday talk takes place at 7 p.m. at the Orinda Library, 24 Orinda Way. CalShakes.org -- Kelly Vance
When was the last time you heard the sweet siren call of the Paraguayan harp? If it's been a while, refresh your eardrums with Carlos Reyes and the Electric Symphony . The multi-instrumentalist bandleader also makes joyful noises on the electric violin, while the band is equally adept at traditional South American folksongs, graceful Latin jazz, and blistering rock-tinged fusion. Reyes performs Saturday (7 p.m.) as part of the ongoing Concert in the Hills Series (4700 Ygnacio Valley Rd.), from the nice folks at Community Concerts, who have brought vibrant and diverse culture to CoCo County for the past six years. Admission and parking are free, and gates open at 6 p.m. CommunityConcerts.com -- Eric K. Arnold
Tell It Like It Is
The East Bay has a multitude of outlets for solo performers -- amateur as well as professional -- who feel the need to scratch that itch by getting up in front of an audience and unburdening themselves. Now there's one more, a bit homier than most. Tell It on Tuesday, a new weekly spoken-word series at Berkeley's Julia Morgan Center for the Arts, encourages storytellers to create a sense of community by sharing their stories. Tuesday's lineup features Randy Rutherford, Todd Lejeune, Dan McHale, and Erica Lann-Clark, seasoned performers all. Tickets are $5 at the door. 2640 College Ave., Berkeley. For more info, visit JuliaMorgan.org -- Kelly Vance
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