Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ever wonder who "Macheath"...

...and "Lotte Lenya" were?

Yesterday the Times ran an obit of Stanley Chase (no relation to David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos), who died at age 87 (my emphasis):

“The Threepenny Opera” was a sensation in Europe after its premiere in Berlin in 1928. Yet it did not find an audience in New York until a quarter-century later, when Stanley Chase, a 26-year-old story editor for CBS Television, co-produced an English-language adaptation that changed the landscape of theater in New York. 

But he was best known as the unknown 20-something who made Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s anticapitalist satire one of the most successful musicals in New York theater history.

Broadway producers far better known than he had wanted to stage it. But Weill’s widow, the actress and singer Lotte Lenya, rejected their proposals to muzzle the play’s knife-edged social criticism for the Broadway audience, and entrusted the work instead to Mr. Chase, an unwavering devotee who had dreamed of producing “The Threepenny Opera” (“Die Dreigroschenoper” in German) since first hearing a 78-r.p.m. recording of the 1928 production as a student at New York University, just a few years before. 

Based loosely on “The Beggar’s Opera,” written by John Gay in the 18th century, the play depicts a cruel underworld of beggars, thieves and killers in Victorian-era London, where Macheath (a.k.a. Mack the Knife), the antihero, is the cruelest of the cruel. In a plot that broadly equates the hypocritical cultures of the thug and the capitalist, Mack commits heinous crimes and not only escapes punishment for them but even receives a lifetime peerage for his trouble.

After the American revival opened, “The Ballad of Mack the Knife,” a set piece that opens and closes the show, was recorded by Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and others; Sinatra himself said the definitive recording was the 1959 version by Bobby Darin, a No. 1 hit.

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