St Andrews "Threepenny Opera" Explores Earthy Themes

Laurinburg, NC (PressExposure) March 18, 2009 -- Written as a parody of traditional operas by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, Threepenny Opera explores the earthy side of Victorian London through the exploits of notorious gangster MacHeath, known commonly as "Mack the Knife." The St. Andrews Presbyterian College Department of Communication and Theatre Arts in conjunction with the Music Department will be producing this musical beginning March 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Morris Morgan Theatre of the James L. Morgan Liberal Arts Building.

Additional performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 27 and 28 with a 2 p.m. matinee performance on March 29. Tickets are $4 for students, $6 for seniors, $8 for St. Andrews employees and $10 for the general public.

The thought of doing a musical at St. Andrews has been in the works since Assistant Professor of Theatre Mark Mannette interviewed for the position.

"Threepenny was one of the musical options we discussed," Mannette said. “We’ve both done the show before, (Associate Professor of Music) Bill (McConnell) as a musical director and I've acted in it. We were familiar with it and thought the students would have fun with it. There's a balance of acted scenes and songs so there is dialogue. It can be thought of as a play with music while still having enough music to be a musical."

Over the summer, Mannette and McConnell decided the timing was right to put this production on the calendar.

"The theatre and music programs at St. Andrews have been experiencing a resurgence in recent years," McConnell said. "With the talent present on the campus at this time we felt that this was a golden opportunity to bring the two together for a musical theatre production."

Leading the way for this ensemble are Cam Abernathy as MacHeath, Philip Ratchford as Henry Peachum and Alexis Baker as Mrs. Peachum. While all three participated in the fall theatre productions of The Rocky Horror Show and The Butcher, The Thief and the Buyer of Beef, their previous experiences were primarily in the distant past.

"I did some theatre when I was 11 or 12 but didn’t return to it until fall semester," said Ratchford, a junior majoring in Sports Management. "I'd been thinking about it and Greta (Friesen, president of the Highland Players Theatre Group at St. Andrews) asked me to try out for Rocky Horror. I had a good time with that so I decided to try out for this semester's play."

For Baker, her acting runs in the family as her parents met in a theatre production. "I was named after their characters," said the sophomore Asian Studies major. "From ages three to 12, I did a weeklong program every summer called 'Show Kids' where we would learn songs to perform for our parents. I had a very small role in The Miracle Worker at age 8."

After taking a break until the end of high school, where she took on a couple stage manager and narrator positions, Baker found a place as a member of the tech crew for both Rocky Horror and Butcher.

"I'm not used to having to memorize lines," she said. "The past two plays I'd done were narrator parts where I could have a notepad or something to read. I was familiar with my lines but I didn't have to memorize them. And I have to memorize songs that I haven't done since I was a kid. For choir we have a book with most of the songs except for those songs that we sing at all the events, like the Alma Mater."

Music has also been challenging for Abernathy, who returned to the stage in both fall productions after having left the stage in middle school.

"Singing is the biggest challenge of this production," he said. "MacHeath is a tenor and I don't fit the typical tenor profile. I'm trying really hard to hit the right notes. I sang when I was younger but I just got back into it last semester. That's the stressful part for me."

While his lead character, like his character in Butcher, is of questionable moral fiber, Abernathy is enjoying the development this character undergoes through the play's three acts.

"MacHeath is a fun character to play," Abernathy said. "He's suave, charming and a manipulator. He's a pimp. I get to play this double-sided person who acts like he's so interested in the women and then goes to find someone else."

"It's an interesting character progression," he continues. "In the beginning you see me with my thugs, keeping them in line and controlling everything. Then I'm in jail for the first time and I still keep my cool. But, in the third act, I lose the suaveness as I realize the potential consequences of my actions. It's fun to play the different aspects of this character since my character in Butcher, while also manipulative, was very much the same throughout the play."

While Ratchford’s character of Peachum is also considered conniving, the character's wife accentuates the negatives.

"I've never encountered a mother like (Mrs. Peachum)," Baker said. "The character likes MacHeath at the beginning because she doesn't really know who he is. Once she finds out that he's eloped with her daughter Polly, she goes nuts. It's like the parents have been building Polly up to take over the family business. Polly is their retirement plan. They hate the idea of the marriage not because they feel sorry for her or are worried about how she will be treated. It is more that it will not benefit them."

"The family dynamic is really bizarre," Baker adds. "Mrs. Peachum hates her husband and you get the feeling that she is very untrusting of men."

This dysfunctional atmosphere is at the heart of this story of criminals, although there are some overarching themes that go beyond the darkness.

"It is a story of the common man," Ratchford said. "It's not really about a struggle to make it through life because they're kind of bad people. It's definitely not a family show."

Baker adds, "This is like Rocky Horror with a plot. There are a lot of lines directed to the audience. There are some raunchy bits and some down and dirty part, but anyone can have fun with it. We reprimand ourselves while doing it and it's really fun."

"Brecht's style is very much in your face that we're doing a play,” Mannette said. "We chose to accentuate that. There is no fourth wall - the audience is a part of the play and the cast interacts with the audience, often speaking directly to the audience. The cast is up in the audience's face a little."

"This is not an opera," he adds. "The original play, The Beggar's Opera, was written as a parody of opera. It is called Threepenny because it's a really cheap version of an opera. It's not about the high class. The content is earthy and the characters are lower class. The hero is a criminal and when that is the case the play takes on that tone."

For those willing to brave the earthiness, both cast and directors promise a strong performance.

"Our cast has worked very hard to bring together every nuance of this piece," McConnell said. "They've had a lot of fun with it and I believe they have become stronger performers through the process."

Threepenny Opera opens March 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Morris Morgan Theatre of the James L. Morgan Liberal Arts Building. Additional performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 27 and 28 with a 2 p.m. matinee performance on March 29. Tickets are $4 for students, $6 for seniors, $8 for St. Andrews employees and $10 for the general public.

For more information, contact Mark Mannette at 910-277-5498 or mannettemt@sapc.edu.

About St. Andrews Presbyterian College

An innovative and bold academic venture to an interdisciplinary curriculum, a highly acclaimed college press, an award-winning pipe band, national champion equestrian teams, and first-rate scholarship have marked the distinctive character of St. Andrews. In addition to classes on the main campus, adult learners also choose the Center for Adult and Professional Studies opportunities through St. Andrews @ Sandhills and St. Andrews ONLINE.


On Aug. 29, 1958, the merger between Presbyterian Junior College and Flora Macdonald College became official with the formation St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. Further information may be obtained by visiting the College's website http://www.sapc.edu, calling 800-763-0198 or sending an e-mail to info@sapc.edu.

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Press Release Submitted On: March 16, 2009 at 3:28 pm
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