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The Threepenny Opera

a piece with music in a Prologue and eight scenes by Bertolt Brecht after John Gay's The Beggar's Opera.

Produced at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin, 31 August 1928 with Harald Paulsen (Macheath) and Lotte Lenya (Jenny).

First performed in this English version by Marc Blitzstein at the Theatre de Lys, New York, 10 May 1954 with Scott Merrill (Macheath) and Lotte Lenya (Jenny). This version first performed in Great Britain at the Royal Court Theatre London, 9 February 1956 with Bill Owen (Macheath) and Maria Remusat (Jenny).

The Prologue, set in Soho, consists of a Street Singer singing the Ballad of Mack the Knife; a man slips between the whores in the market, tips his hat to them - 'Look, there goes Mack the Knife!'



Georgia Brown as Lucy (1956)
Georgia Brown as Lucy in the Royal Court Theatre Production 1956

In Peachum's Beggar's Outfit Shop the day begins with the arrival of a new beggar, Filch, who is fitted out with appropriate clothes and assigned to a begging pitch. Business should be good, because London is full of visitors for Victoria's Coronation. Peachum and his wife are worried that their daughter Polly is keeping company with Macheath, but they are already too late: Macheath and Polly arrive for their marriage in an empty stable, hastily provided with furniture and tableware stolen by Macheath's gang. They sing a bawdy Wedding Song; Macheath demands another song and Polly obliges with Pirate Jenny, a riotous tale with a sting of real menace. The wedding party is joined by Rev. Kimball and Tiger Brown, Commissioner of Police, who are both in Macheath's pocket; Brown and Mackie reminisce about their days in India and then the commissioner leaves, assuring Mackie that he can handle any trouble Polly's father may make.

Polly's parents are furious to hear that she is married. They plan to get Macheath betrayed by one of his many women. Polly overhears the plot and hints that Mackie has a friend in the Police Commissioner, who would be interested to hear about her father's infamous trade. 


Polly comes to the stable to warn Mackie to disappear - her father has somehow convinced Brown of Mackie's crimes and there is a warrant out for his arrest. He agrees to flee to Highgate, puts her in charge of the gang and tells them so when they arrive. Polly swears at them, to prove she is to be taken seriously and then bids a tender farewell to Mackie. Mrs. Peachum visits the whores in Wapping; she knows Macheath will go there, and bribes Jenny to inform on him. He duly arrives; Jenny reads his hand , then goes to fetch a policeman and returns to reminisce with him about their life together before he is arrested and taken away, to Mrs. Peachum's delight.

At Newgate Prison, Mackie ignores the shamefaced Brown and bribes the jailer £50 to remove his handcuffs. His next step is a reconciliation with Lucy (Brown's daughter and also his wife), who believes everything he says, but realises how gullible she is. Polly arrives, and she and Lucy fly at each other. Mrs. Peachum intervenes and hauls Polly off: Mackie inveigles Lucy to steal the keys and free him, and Peachum,  


The Peachums are preparing their 'beggars' to disrupt the Coronation procession. Jenny and the whores arrive to collect their informer's money, but Peachum refuses as Mackie has escaped. However, Jenny lets slip that Mackie, after returning to her, is now at Sukey Tawdry's, so Peachum sends Filch to tell the police. But Brown and his band of constables burst in, intending to round up Peachum and his crew of 'beggars', and Peachum has to talk very fast and persuasively to persuade Brown to change direction and go after Mackie.

Jenny has her own wry comment: - 'Is it worth it to be top dog? Guess not!' . Mackie has been caught again; he tries to bribe his way free, but the gang are half-hearted in providing the money. The entire company burst in to see the hanging; Mackie sings a rueful farewell, hypocritical goodbyes are said and just as Mackie mounts the gallows, comes "mercy just for once" in the shape of a reprieve, a knighthood, a castle and a pension! The Street Singer steps forward with a short reprise of Mackie's Ballad "Happy endings, nice and tidy but maybe Peachum's sour comment is nearer the truth.

Musical Numbers

  1. Ballad of Mack the Knife
  2. The Instead of Song
  3. Wedding Song
  4. Pirate Jenny
  5. Army Song
  6. Ballad of Dependency
  7. Polly's Song
  8. Tango Ballad
  9. Ballad of the Easy Life
  10. Barbara Song
  11. Jealousy Duet
  12. Solomon Song
  13. Death Message
  14. Happy Endings



Reed 1: Clarinet, Alto Sax; Reed 2: Clarinet, Tenor Sax; 2 Trumpets, Trombone, Banjo doub. Guitar; Hawaiian Guitar, Piano doub. Harmonium & Celesta