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Ramona Gilmour Darling as Polly Peachum, Mark McGrinder as Macheath
Ramona Gilmour Darling as Polly Peachum, Mark McGrinder as Macheath

Theatre review: The Beggar's Opera in Gananoque

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The Beggar's Opera runs at the 1000 Islands Playhouse through August 26. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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THE BEGGAR'S OPERA, the ballad opera by John Gay, was a smash hit in London in 1728.  To quote Musical Director Sandy Thorburn's program notes, "It is the intersecting themes of commerce, law, and lust that make [it] a timeless satire of public morality."  Many of the ideas are unfortunately still applicable today.  Lines such as, "Like great statesmen we encourage those who betray their friends," and "Money well-timed and properly applied can do anything," sound an all-too-familiar note.  For the 69 short songs, Mr. Gay introduced the use of popular tunes of the period with his own lyrics, a technique still being used today.  This comedy set in London's underworld also served as the source material for Kurt Weill's THE THREEPENNY OPERA.

John Dinning's set design is an interesting arrangement of wooden platforms and ramps, with the musicians visible on the top platform, and is well lit by Renee Brode.  As for Dennis Horn's costumes, they're wonderfully period and colorful, especially Mrs. Peachum's pink wig.

Time and space preclude me from mentioning everyone in the large cast, but the cast is strong and all have good voices that fill the theatre without the aid of microphones.  What a pleasure it is to hear live un-amplified music!  Michael Rode is very entertaining in the tiny role of the Jailor.  He really makes something out of what is essentially a walk-on.  I also enjoyed the performance of David Tompkins as Matt of the Mint.

Mo Bock is effective as Lockit, the local turnkey.  However he uses such a growling character voice there were times I had trouble understanding his dialogue.  As the aptly-named Filch, Timm Hughes gives a very good and believable performance.

Amber Mills makes a nice Lucy Lockit and gives the character a subtle touch of vulnerability.  I like the way she trails the last note of her song into a wail.  As Polly Peachum Ramona Gilmour Darling gives the character a delightfully ditsy edge.  Both these ladies sing very well.

Mark McGrinder as Macheath and Matthew Gibson as Peachum are both excellent singer/actors.  Mr. McGrinder plays Macheath with a light comic touch and the style of the piece perfectly suits Mr. Gibson's abilities and voice.

Musical Director Sandy Thorburn and his musicians do a fine job with the period score and instruments.  Mr. Thorburn has also trained the ensemble well - every lyric is understandable.  Musical Directors don't often wear wigs and play scenes, but Mr. Thorburn does it with aplomb.  I was also pleased to see the musicians' contribution to the production recognized by putting their pictures and bios in the program.

Greg Wanless has done a really nice job of directing THE BEGGAR'S OPERA.  He's helped the entire cast get the style, both emotionally and physically.  He's also come up with some nice bits of comic staging, particularly the first ensemble entrance and Peachum and Lockit's back-up for a song.  The latter is out of period, but it's so funny and they were enjoying it so much I didn't care.

This satirical comedy about money, love, lust and betrayal has retained its ability to entertain.  That's the sign of a true classic and this is a unique opportunity to see a full production of the play.

On a scale of one to five the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of THE BEGGAR'S OPERA gets four and a half fish.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.  

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