“The Threepenny Opera” is in full swing at Muhlenberg

‘Berg artists brought the musical to life in the Lehigh Valley Distribution Center

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The company of "The Threepenny Opera" // Photo by Maddi Whiting '23

With so many performers at Muhlenberg, it feels like there is always something to go see on campus. Last weekend, and next—Oct. 28 through Nov. 6—the theatre department staged “The Threepenny Opera,” this semester’s full-scale musical directed by department head James (Jim) Peck, Ph.D.

“The Threepenny Opera” is a three-act drama with music that follows Polly Peachum, daughter of Jonathan Peachum, who controls the beggars of Victorian London, as she marries crime-lord Macheath (“Mack the Knife”) against her father’s wishes. Polly’s parents resolve to have Macheath hanged, thus beginning a series of scenes and events full of devastating corruption, dark humor and deceit.  

Muhlenberg took the already satirical Bertolt Brecht musical and set it inside a warehouse, adding an additional level of commentary on the flaws of capitalism and allowing it to become an equally sarcastic commentary on sexism. The setting allowed for a visually stunning stage.

“This entire process has just been me being continually blown away by the people around me.”

– Cailyn Murray ‘23

“The more recent rise of e-commerce has led to an exponential growth in fulfillment and distribution centers due to the ability for a single trucker’s shift to reach across a region where 40% of US consumers reside,” states Assistant Director Lauren Koranda ‘23, in the program notes. “In ‘Threepenny,’ the characters’ statuses as members of the proletariat and the human cost of their labor throughout the play provoke consideration of the hidden and often unacknowledged violence at the core of capitalist labor relations. As we move from an industrial to a consumer economy, Brecht and Hauptmann offer new ways for us to think about how an economy rooted in warehousing shapes workplace environments from warehouse workers of the Lehigh Valley to the broader working class.”

“I really like the set. I think that the idea of putting it in a shipping yard is really cool, and I also like the use of lighting in and throughout the production,” said Samantha Freed ‘26, during the show’s second intermission. She was not alone in this sentiment. 

“The way the themes of the show were linked to the capitalist and industrial past of the Lehigh Valley was incredible, especially in terms of the production design being in the style of a warehouse. It allowed for a lot of interesting creative interpretations of the text throughout the show that added style but also brought a new layer of subtext to the show overall” says Ian Clark ‘25.

While the final product of the show was well received, the actors and creative team certainly had a challenge in the task of bringing such an intricate show and concept to life.

“From a backstage perspective it has been great to see how many designers and crew members have been putting so much energy and thought into ‘Threepenny,’” said Alena Craig ‘24, assistant costume designer.

“Working on ‘Threepenny’ has been an absolute ball… It is a rare and special privilege to play [Polly] in all of her strangeness and messiness and beauty. This process has allowed me, as an actor, to focus on such specific details of the show itself and my own performance, as well as to be completely and utterly free, which seems oxymoronic. Every word and moment in this show has to be completely on purpose, and still, there’s so much fun in the whole thing, which has been challenging and delightful to learn to balance, especially when you realize that each side, the specificity and the freedom, benefits the other,” said Madeline Burk ‘23. Burk was featured in a previous issue as she discussed her creative process and the exciting opportunity to bring Polly Peachum to life. From the audience’s reactions, Burk succeeded in bringing her wonderfully nuanced character to the Empie stage, receiving raucous applause and recognition after all of her numbers.

“I really feel like we’ve been encouraged to make big acting choices and take agency over our work in a way that’s been really helpful to me as a performer.”

– Allison Mintz ‘23

Cailyn Murray ‘23, who plays Matt of the Mint, says, “This entire process has just been me being continually blown away by the people around me. The cast and creative team behind ‘Threepenny’ is not only insanely talented but super passionate about this project, and I think the entire thing is one big labor of love. Working with everybody over the past two months has been such a blast and I really don’t think I could have asked for a better production to end my Muhlenberg career with as I’m graduating in December.”

Other performers expressed similar sentiments of being pushed by their characters and the creative team throughout the process of bringing “The Threepenny Operato life. “I really feel like we’ve been encouraged to make big acting choices and take agency over our work in a way that’s been really helpful to me as a performer. The collaborative environment… in the rehearsal space allows us to share ideas, talk about characters and figure out what’s going to work best for this specific production. This show has certainly expanded my idea of what kinds of shows I can be in… I feel very lucky to be a part of this process.” said Allison Mintz ‘23, who brings Mrs. Peachum to life.

Danny Milkis ‘23, who plays Tiger Brown, says, “Having the opportunity to be part of such a consequential theatre piece with this incredible group of people has been a unique privilege. The fact that our production allows us to tell the story of this crucial moment in our local and national history, especially through the lens of a nearly one-hundred-year-old work, goes to show how well Brecht captured the cyclicity of social politics.”

The Threepenny Opera will run for one more weekend in the Empie Theatre on Nov. 3, Nov. 4, Nov. 5 and Nov. 6.

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