Got ya there for a second, didn’t I? That’s how I roll baby! He He, Looks like I am still in a heady mood from the 3-hr musical that I had the fortune of attending. Thanks to a random conversation with a labmate and a surprising turn of events, I found myself sitting in a theatre at UT at 7 PM on a Thursday, and watching heavily dressed and make-uped gentlemen and ladies perform a variety of throat contortions, as the pianist belted out simple la-la-la-la-la’s on her piano and the crew around hurried to get things in place before the show began. I, the poor little musical virgin, sat there with a friend’s camera in my hand, staring agape at the activity with innocent wonder; for were not these gents and ladies ethereal, did their costumes not glow in the ambient light, did they not smirk and smile with such audacity to wipe from your mind all the smirks and stares that you have ever seen? My virginity was about to be sacrificed at a lesser altar, but an altar nonetheless, for this was not broadway — the place where dreams are made and charioteers of acting are born anew everyday, this was a small, homely theatre at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Drama (I am guessing). The semi-professional-ness of the play did not take away the pain and pleasure that one feels during loss of such virginity; the actors, the stage, the music pleasured me, while the randomly interrupting heads of my fellow previewers pained me, so did my lack of non-shaky hands — more on that a bit later.
So, there I sat, with a camera in my hand as the play began to unfold, and I started to click away with gusto — after all, I had a nice Nikon to play around with right? What was I supposed to do? 😉 My weakness at not holding a camera still aside, I decided to try my best to get shots similar to those that my colleague showed me earlier, they say that if you do, you remember! If you are daft enough to not have got it till now, let me be as clear as I can — I went to a musical in my school and had a nice camera and in this blog post am going to try and narrate the story of the musical, as I stitch the narrative along with some of my pictures. The narrative is just a means of delivering my ultimate goal — the pictures, for I am pretty proud of some of them, especially considering that I did not use a tripod and my shaky hands were as shaky as ever!
The story of the musical is a very famous one (apparently) — The Threepenny Opera, and one can find the boring Wikipedia summary here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Threepenny_Opera. But we writers are a weird breed, who like to re-write things in their own words, as if telling the tale in one’s own words would somehow allow one to make the story one’s own. My delusions of grandeur are possibly a tale for another post, so let us skip that
and move directly on to the story. The protagonist (ostensibly) of our story is Mack the knife, or Mackie — a vile, putrid, disgusting human being who is not above rape, murder, robbery or any other scoundrel-y that takes his fancy. The story opens with the narrator describing to us the vileness of this creature, and the inability of the police to every lay their hands upon him. His murders are described with great enthusiasm backed with neat portraits of the poor bleeding victims, and then our hero is introduced — the rottenness that is Mackie makes his appearance — a suave gentleman that one wouldn’t mind sharing a meal with, such a classy-looking man is our putrid murderer. Long live false appearances!
The hero now firmly entrenched in our memory, the story then shows us the family of Mr. Peachum, provider of the masses, rescuer of the downtrodden, hero amongst the slaves, the messiah of those in need — the controller of the beggars in London. No one dare to raise their arms in supplication in London, without the official sanction of this earnest gentleman, who describes in vivid detail to the audience what moves a person to part with hard-earned money. He rightly points out that humans are capable of instantly getting inured to another’s misery, for selfishness is the only thing that keeps a man alive (a theme that runs through the musical). Having demonstrated to us that he is indeed the kingpin of the beggars of London, we are asked to bear witness to the fact that his daughter has found a wonderful suitor — a gentleman (as his wife puts it) and that they are blissfully in love with each other. As these things usually turn out, this gentleman, Mr. Peachum deduces, is none other than Mackie, and this realization causes a panic, a frenzy that is indicative of the repulsion that Mr. and Mrs. Peachum harbor toward the lovely Mack the knife. Their feelings are possibly a bit exaggerated, for at that very moment in a stable of some careless person’s house (careless, because he could not stop the criminals from breaking and entering), Mack the knife and Miss Peachum — Polly, are to be bound in holy matrimony. Yes, Mackie and his brood of uncouth ruffians have made arrangements (much of which
displeases Mackie, but draws bouts of appreciation from Polly — out of fear or pity possibly) for a grand (as much as possible in a stable) wedding to occur. Jolly singing and Polly’s lovely voice make an appearance before the priest does. Closely following the priest is the chief of police himself — Brown, Tiger Brown. The nervousness of his colleagues produces nothing but ridicule and laughter from Mackie, for as we are told (through a funny but extremely racist number), Mackie and Brown are as thick as thieves (see what I did there!) and that they served in the army together and that Brown gets a fair share of Mackie’s nether-dealings in order to ensure that Mackie never sees the inside of a prison. Polly returns home, shocking her aghast parents with tales of love forever and Mackie’s commitment, while her parents pooh-pooh Mackie as a criminal vagabond. Polly’s inadvertent revelation of Mackie’s and Brown’s relationship leads to a devious plan that Mr. and Mrs. Peachum devise, not only to free their only daughter from the clutches of this evil tyrant, but to also lay their hands upon the reward money that Mackie carries on his head — their version of killing two birds with one stone.
Fearing the worst, the beautiful, dainty Polly rushes back to Mackie and acquaints him with the situation. Mackie, ever confident, at first refuses to believe that he shall ever be caught and does not seem to realize the hold that a Beggar King holds over public servants. Polly soon convinces him otherwise, drawing references to the impending coronation of the Queen (hoot — so, every time someone said “coronation”, the orchestra would give out a neat little trumpet sound, this was cool till it got frustrating, and a cast member looked up and asked them to cut it out — all planned of course; my “hoot” is a sad textual version of the mellifluous music). The now convinced Mackie, explains to his new wife the ins-and-outs of the business and she demonstrates that she is capable of handling the trade with natural adeptness. Mackie is supposed to disappear from the city to avoid the cops, but his weak nature — as Mr. and Mrs. Peachum guess accurately — leads him to his favorite whorehouse. In no time Mackie is arrested and put behind bars, where he is visited by his old friend, the chief of police, who is devastated at the turn of events, but is helpless. Polly visits Mackie too, and unfortunately for her, her soutan Lucy (who also happens to be Brown’s daughter) pays Mackie a visit at the same time, leading to a fight for Mackie amongst these august women. Mackie’s philandering ways — a fact that was repeatedly brought to Polly’s notice by her parents, are now clear to Polly, who loves him nonetheless. Polly leaves Mackie in prison, disappointed, and Lucy helps him chart his escape. Just as soon as Mackie escapes, Mr. Peachum comes in to pay a visit and finding an empty cell, berates the Chief Brown, who cries his innocence. Mr. Peachum leaves in disgust. We are informed soon enough, that it was one of the whores, Jenny, who for the want of money had betrayed her former lover — Mackie to Mrs. Peachum, who called the cops. Mackie’s escape renders remuneration impossible, and Jenny is forced to betray his location to the Peachums again, echoing the common thread that runs through the play — What keeps a man alive? Ans: Selfishness.
The scene turns to Mr. Peachum’s place of work, which is invaded by the cops and Chief Brown. Mr. Peachum, who controls the beggars in the city, threatens to harness his vast resources to create trouble on the day of the coronation, and the poor Chief Brown, rattled by the images of him being publicly humiliated and physically tortured, proceeds to go and arrest his old pal Mackie — but this time to ensure his execution. Mackie lands in jail, his betrayal rankling him hard, as he tries in vain to bribe the guards — not because they are incorruptible, but because Mackie is unable to raise the money to do so. Mackie and his henchmen, including Polly soon realize that the only possible culmination to this series of events is that Mackie is going to be hanged on the day of the coronation. And just as he is about to step off the platform, a sudden intentional twist is announced (it is supposed to be comical) — we are told that this is an opera, and while Mackie may have hanged for his sins in real life, he is not going to be hanged in an opera, just so that they can ensure a happy ending to the story! A messenger arrives on a horseback and announces that Her Majesty has pardoned Mackie and he has been elevated to Viscompte, and is to be provided a fortune for his life — a deliberate attempt to poke fun at the un-realism of happy endings. The musical ends with a neat finale!
This was my first musical, so I did enjoy much of it. I thought that the lead female — Polly, Mr. and Mrs. Peachum and Jenny were excellent; Mackie could improve a lot. The solos were pretty good, especially Polly’s risque love song. Even the group numbers were right up there. The crew had clearly taken quite a bit of effort to get everything right, and although they did not always, they did a pretty decent job! Oh, and I leave you with the picture of the guy who does the lighting for the play — a friend of my labmate, who got us in for the preview!