Monday, July 26, 2010

Menahem Golan - Mack the Knife (1989)

WPost wrote:
By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 12, 1990

Raul Julia, the Ricardo Montalban of tomorrow, brings his scratchy baritone and snake-oiled magnetism to the title role of Menahem Golan's surprisingly enjoyable "Mack the Knife." With a Tony Award nomination under his top hat, he reprises the role he first performed in a Broadway production of "The Threepenny Opera." Though definitely an acquired taste, Julia is a guilty pleasure as Victorian London's most notorious Romeo.

Julia is all googly-eyed menace as the cynical hero of this lavishly appointed take on the musical by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. Perhaps the Germans' genius is indestructible, or perhaps Golan, known for his ambitiously cheesy disasters, just stumbled into this reasonably successful production, a sort of bummed-out Busby Berkeley with the happy homeless.

The sets are ragtag Rabelaisian, coarse and filthy and teeming with streetwise Dickensians -- beggars, cutpurses, whores, gents and crooked bobbies. And the cast, a rather zesty lot, are got up in Victorian funk -- black net stockings, beauty marks and bustiers for the harlots; glad rags and battered stovepipes for the petty criminals. It looks the way we've come to expect a British period piece to look, glamorously dreary, full of dirty urchins and poor people.

"Mack the Knife" looks much better than it sounds, except for the achingly versatile voice of Julia Migenes, who is as disturbingly sensual here as she was in the title role of 1984's "Carmen." A mysterious, unusual beauty, she performs the role of Jenny, the bitter prostitute who betrays her lover, Mack, for money. Mrs. Peachum (Julie Walters), married to the king of the beggars (Richard Harris) and mother of fair young Polly (Rachel Robertson), offers Jenny 20 guineas to turn him in upon learning that Mack, two times a bigamist, has also married her daughter. The Who's Roger Daltrey, as the Street Singer, makes a spunky one-man Greek chorus.

Mack, who recalls Zorro in his ability to escape the pursuit of policemen and outwit his jailers, runs a merry chase about the slums. The plot, on the order of a Weimar Republic Gilbert and Sullivan, is a simple stage for holding all the music's folkloric cynicism, its jivey classicism. War, poverty, the class system and corrupt politicians all come in for a jolly blistering.

"Mack the Knife" is by no means the new "Oliver!" It doesn't bring down the house or rouse the rabble. Still, it's not the unkindest cut.

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