Than Rent’s current production
Its attempts to be part spaghetti Western, part political satire and part film noir don’t add up
The piece is narrated by guitar-in-hand Taylor Swift (played by Sarah Daniels), who begins the show with a rousing song with her musical brother Jonathan (composer Oyen). The Swifts are on stage throughout the show, anchoring the stage on either side of the proscenium. It was a fun country opening number, which led into the first scene (a saloon) where we meet the main characters: Mr. Peachum, Polly, Lucy, Lucy’s Father Sheriff Locket, and of course Little Mac (Tom Sanchez). In the first scene I was charmed by the simplicity of the cardboard cut-out set, make shift wigs and costumes, fake mustaches and stick ponies. The company seemed to wink at the audience with every line, and I was primed for a tongue-in-cheek, “Waiting for Guffman”-esque send up.
At the end of the first scene, Little Mac is run out of town after having promised to marry Polly when he already married Lucy. The antihero Mac is chased cross country for the remainder of three acts, through several scenarios, placing him with inventors, then financiers, then gangsters, even Hollywood. Every scene mixed characters from different time periods, putting historical figures and pop culture icons together. These various scenes were meant to mirror the political and social themes in the original Beggar’s Opera and Threepenny, and although the characters and scenes had clever elements, here they did little to really say anything new or comment in a new way. The comedy was sophomoric, and not broad enough to make it work.
There were several original songs in Little Mac, and I respect the homage to the Great American Songbook and music theatre that I heard. References to Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, and even Threepenny itself, did not go unrecognized by me. Kudos to Mr. Oyen.
The bright spot in the show is Sarah Daniels’ winning performance of Taylor Swift. She has a great voice, sharp comic timing and an energy that helped to keep the show moving. The other performers in the show worked their butts off, gamely taking on many roles each, adding and taking away costume elements and wigs. They were required to perform in varied theatrical styles from vaudeville and minstrel show to rap, jazz and musical comedy. Their performances were valiant, but not memorable.
Less Than Rent is known for taking classic works and re-imagining them. I commend the attempt to take this classic story on, but this version is mostly confusing, only mildly comic and way too long.