The Threepenny Opera

Off-Broadway Return Engagement (1955)

Trivia & History

For this production, "Pirate Jenny" was moved to the second act for Lotte Lenya to sing. Polly (Jo Sullivan) was given "Bide-a-Wee in Soho" during the stable scene to give her something to sing in its place. It remained that way through the run. The official list of musical numbers for the Blitzstein translation as licensed can be found on the page for the Biltzstein translation. It may be that some later productions of the Blitzstein translation, especially during the 1960s, included "Bide-a-Wee in Soho," although it's not clear that the song was ever officially part of the licensed script or even officially offered as an option.

Because the Actors' Equity contract required only five days' notice before an actor left the production, there was a constant turnover in actors appearing in the show. Actors would leave to do Broadway shows or tours, allowing new blood to come in. Therefore, the show never really went out of rehearsal. A replacement required at least one rehearsal before going into the show. Two weeks was generally the most the production went without a rehearsal.

The production won two Tony Awards in 1956, even though it played off-Broadway. One was for Lotte Lenya as Featured Actress in a Musical. The other was a special award for the entire production. Scott Merrill was nominated for Supporting Actor in a Musical but lost to Russ Brown in Damn Yankees (1954). There seems to have been no prohibition at the time from awarding Off-Broadway shows. The prohibition may have started specifically because of objections from Broadway producers over Threepenny wining an award.

While there was frequent turnover in many of the roles, Marion Selee and William Duell remained with the show for nearly the entire run. Selee played occasional stints as Mrs. Peachum, the role she understudied, and then she would return to the role of Molly, but Duell seems to have only played the roles of Filch and Messenger (doubled in this production), even though it was common for actors in this production to switch among various roles.

Selee left the production in June 1961 because of illness. She died in September. A classically trained mezzo-soprano who occasionally gave song recitals, she gave her final recital at Carnegie Recital Hall in May 1961.

Duell left the cast during the summer of 1961, possibly to join the cast of a new Broadway-bound comedy titled A Cook for Mr. General that proved short-lived. Indeed, Threepenny was still running (though in its final weeks) when A Cook for Mr. General closed.

The new owner of the Theatre de Lys, Lucille Lortel, became one of the producers of the show and it re-opened in September 1955 (after a 15-month hiatus).

The production wasn't changed in any notable way for the re-opening and much of the cast returned. But where critics had been mixed during the previous run, they were now ecstatic. On Sunday, September 25, 1955, in the New York Times "Scoreboard" of recent openings, it was reported that "Four aisle-sitters sat in for the reopening of the Kurt Weill-Bert Brecht-Marc Blitzstein work and none offered objection."

The production contract guaranteed every actor at least $25 per week. Because of the small budget, it was impossible to increase salaries to Broadway standards. During her time with the show, Lenya's salary was increased to $65 per week.

By closing, the cast had boasted 709 actors, been seen by 750,000 audience members (in a 299-seat theatre), and made $3,000,000.

In 1996, producer Lucille Lortel proposed a concert revival to play at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (formerly the Theatre de Lys, where the revival played). A television special for PBS was even considered. It would have been a gala event. Eventually, on Dec. 18, 2000, the concert performance finally happened, although Lortel had died in April 1999. The concert was not televised.

The high turnover in cast members caused some financial burden for remaining cast members. There had been gifts for departing performers (threepenny necklaces for girls, cufflinks for fellows). But they were having to contribute so much money to buy them for so many cast members leaving the show that the tradition had to be discontinued.

Cast members nicknamed a bar at the corner of Bedford and Christopher Streets (a favorite after-performance hangout) their own New York "Bide-A-Wee" after the song in the show.

New restaurants actually opened to accomodate the theatre crowds. The entire street changed because of the show.

The banjo player in the original 1928 Berlin production, Michael Danzi, was the original banjo player for this production.

In May 1961, a closing date of June 25 was announced, but demand kept the production running till December.

Director and co-producer Carmen Capalbo subbed for Richard Verney in the role of Tiger Brown for a brief period in early October 1955 while Verney was out sick.

On September 22, 1956, it was reported in the New York Times theatre column that the actor currently playing Reverend Kimball, Norman Gano, was a Baptist minister from Spokane, Washington, where he had been ordained five years before. Mr. Gano, according to the column, was "seeking a daytime pulpit while he continues his thespian chores."

This return engagement was at first advertised as being for a limited run, although with no closing date specified.

Saul Bolasni, billed only by his last name, was credited as costume designer for the first run, but no costume designer was credited for this return. Instead, the production's set designer, William Pitkin, was credited with supervising the costumes.

No lighting designer was credited for the first run, but the highly regarded Peggy Clark designed the lighting for this return run.

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