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Welcome to the Arden Theatre Company blog, where we share behind-the-scenes stories and current happenings with you. You will hear from the Arden staff as well as actors and other visiting artists, and we hope to hear from you, too. If you have an idea for a topic, please post a comment about it. We can't wait to hear what you think!

Starting this year, look we’re having members of Arden Drama School’s Teen Company review our main stage productions. These teenagers have already shown an interest in theatre and the Arden as long-time participants in our drama classes. However, we aren’t censoring what they write and we encourage their honest critiques in their own words! Here’s the first review; be on the lookout for more in 2011.

By Charlie Crawford

Michael Hollinger’s Ghost-Writer is like a well-written book. In the show, each individual involved provides one of many critical chapters that come together to tell a fantastic story. Some of those involved have a bigger part to do, but if one piece were missing, it would fall apart. Fortunately, everyone involved in Ghost-Writer does his or her job well and they make the show enjoyable.

Myra Babbage, played by Megan Bellwoar, is a typist who is recommended to Franklin Woolsey, played by Douglas Rees. They become an exemplary writing duo as they get to know each other. As they work together more and more, she begins to predict what he will dictate. Their relationship grows closer than most marriages. Bellwoar and Rees portray the relationship seamlessly. The two are very comfortable on stage and their interaction is real. The two are frequently interrupted in their work by Mrs. Woolsey, played by Patricia Hodges, who constantly wants to socialize, check up, or receive typing lessons. Each actor is deserving of praise, but Bellwoar is the core of the show. She never leaves the stage, is always engaged with another character, and never receives a break.

The work done behind the scenes is also deserving of credit. David Gordon makes a stage that creates a different perspective for each audience member that is enjoyably perplexing. Costumer Charlotte Cloe Fox Wind creates several wonderfully extravagant costumes for Mrs. Woolsey. The lighting, done by Jerold R. Forsyth and the sound design, done by Jorge Cousineau are appropriately synchronized and make for very dramatic moments. This is all done under the direction of James Christy who has done an excellent job of directing on stage and off stage.

The show eventually takes a surreal turn where neither the audience nor Bellwoar can understand what is real and what is not. The audience gets lost along with Bellwoar and has a difficult time coming back to reality. This is all enhanced by the lighting, a fascinating stage, and sound work that makes the show truly feel like it’s in the early 1900’s. Throughout the show, Bellwoar references a non-existent person in the audience. The audience is fairly sure that he does not exist, but many glance backwards just to check. This is what makes Ghost-Writer so noteworthy, an excellent script, precise technical work, and skilled actors. Ghost-Writer is an affecting, thought-provoking opening for the Arden seasons. Besides young children, all audiences will be entertained by Ghost-Writer, especially finicky English teachers.

The Scene is a new program here at the Arden to introduce people to our theatre in a fun, low-key setting. We host a pre-show party, provide a discounted ticket to the show, and then invite audience, cast and crew to join us after the play at a local hot spot.

Our first event of The Scene was on Friday, October 15 for The Threepenny Opera. QBBQ + Tequila served us a tasty spread of tacos and pulled pork sandwiches, along with margaritas. After the show, staff, cast and audience members gathered at Plough & the Stars for drinks and dancing!

Check out these photos from the pre-show party and learn more about upcoming Scene events in 2011!

On Tuesday, >physician October 19 our Sylvan Society worked with Associate Artistic Director Ed Sobel to perform He Who Says No, a play by Bertolt Brecht. This play is one of his Lesson Plays (Lehrstucke), which was a radical theatrical form he developed in the 1920s and 1930s. These works remove the separation from the actors and audience, shifting the focus from the product to the process. Learn more about this theatrical style and see the Sylvan Society on stage in this video recap of the event!

We’ve noticed quite a few comments about The Threepenny Opera around Facebook and Twitter recently.  Here’s a sampling of what people are saying:

“The Arden Theatre on 2nd Street has just mounted a thrilling production of Threepenny Opera. The translation is the best I’ve heard since I saw the legendary New York revival back in 1953. I’m pretty sure it’s very close to the original 1928 Berlin production. GO! You’lll hear a version of Mack the Knife the likes …of which you never would expect.”

“at The Threepenny Opera and. loving it. I love a visually pleasing show! Shoutouts to scenic artists, lighting designers and costume designers all over the world. Without you…there’s no show!”

Threepenny Opera at the Arden had the usual strong works from stalwarts named Greer, Martello and Lawton, >shop but Amanda Schoonover is just right in smaller roles as a beggar and a whore.”

“Terence Archie was spectacular in The Threepenny Opera last night! Welcome to the Arden family Terence.”

If one of these mini-reviews is yours, please claim it in the comments section of this post.

Have you used been talking about Threepenny online and we missed it? Feel free to re-post here in the comments or mention the Arden in your Facebook or Twitter updates.

By Sally Ollove, >advice dramaturg for The Threepenny Opera

The Threepenny Opera is the musical Cabaret wishes it could be. No need to reconstruct the decadence of Berlin in the 1920s, Threepenny opens a vein in the Weimar Republic and lets it bleed all over the stage. Written haphazardly in 1928 by an army of contributors helmed by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, >ailment the musical horrified critics, shocked audiences, and sold out every night. Threepenny was both a satire and a celebration of Weimar depravity. It was also a turning point in theatrical history: the first commercial success for theatrical innovator Brecht, and the piece that set avant-garde composer Kurt Weill on the path to musical divinity.

Adapted from a seventeenth century English operetta, Threepenny tells the tale of Mack the Knife, a rapist, crook, and killer who marries Polly Peachum, the daughter of the King of the Beggars despite fathering a baby with Lucy Brown, the daughter of a corrupt constable. Betrayed by his favorite whore and deceived by his wily mother-in-law, Mackie faces the gallows. The story wanders around London’s depraved underbelly, populated by crooked lawmen, slimy thieves, deceitful beggars, and vengeful prostitutes.

Brecht, with the help of translator Elizabeth Hauptmann, punched up the older text by adding a level of titillation rarely achieved on the stage. He accomplished this mostly by making insinuations explicit, introducing dirty words, and ridding characters of as much integrity as possible. Brecht ripped the cover off Berlin theatre to expose the true desires of his Weimar peers. He took a gamble and won: his use of low-brow humor and story-telling revolutionized twentieth century theatre.

Kurt Weill equaled the daring of his collaborator. Weill loved jazz and played an instrumental part in incorporating it into the modern musical. Like Brecht, he was a great synthesizer: the Threepenny score has music influenced by opera, jazz, 1920s avant-garde symphonies, cabaret, and even the original operetta. The music became an instant hit in Europe—the melodies inescapable for years. Famously, his song “Mack the Knife” became a jazz standard performed by everyone from Bobby Darin and Ella Fitzgerald to Nick Cave and Michael Bublè.

Threepenny takes a seventeenth century romantic melodrama and turns it into a celebration of vice where everything is for sale—especially love. Society hums with criminal activity. Rather than check the illegal activity, the law enables it. The celebration of sin invites the audience to revel in a world where everything is covered in grime. Only when leaving does the audience realize the corruption they have endorsed. Nothing has changed since the musical’s premiere: human nature, Brecht and Weill prophesy, will always reduce to its most basic desires. A bitter pill, but the music lets it slide down with verve.

Mackie’s back in town! The Arden opened a raucous production of The Threepenny Opera on Wednesday, here October 6. The opening night celebration began at 5:30pm with a Sylvan Society cocktail party at home of Don and Lynn Haskin. The Haskins, longtime supporters of the Arden, live in Old City with a fabulous view that includes the Arden!

400 guests gathered for the opening night performance and celebrated after the show with a delicious cheese and dessert spread by Starr Events Catering and libations by Hatboro Beverages.

Spirits were high – both for a fabulous production and a win by our Philllies (a victory which was announced to the audience during intermission!) Special thanks to Harmelin Media, the Arden’s Opening Night sponsor.

©2009 Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19106. For tickets, call 215.922.1122.
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