The Threepenny Opera is the most familiar example of Bertolt Brecht’s epic theater, which traded spectacle for the stripped-down thrills of confrontational honesty. Scott Elliott’s revival, from a new translation by Wallace Shawn, studiously honors Brechtian dogma with sardonic pop-Marxism, and does justice to Kurt Weill’s famously antioperatic score with a smartly compact cabaret ensemble. But if, as Brecht wrote, ”the essence of art is simplicity, grandeur and sensitivity,” this production nails only the first: It’s a scrupulous lab demo, suitable for trips from local drama schools, assuming the instructors embrace transgressions like profanity (ooh!), polysexuality (ahh!), and full-frontal male nudity (eek!). Grown-ups may be excused for yawning.
Our highwayman antihero is Captain Macheath, a.k.a. Mac the Knife (Alan Cumming, returning to Studio 54 and Weimaresque fetish wear, but not to the wicked élan he displayed in 1998’s Cabaret) . Mac, a danger to life, property, and conventional morality, weds Polly (Nellie McKay, exuding space-cake hipsterness), daughter of the disapproving Peachums (ex-SNL siren Ana Gasteyer and the smashing Jim Dale). They get Mac’s favorite whore, Jenny (a shaky Cyndi Lauper), to turn him in, and various bourgeois hypocrisies collapse on themselves. Again. Mac’s gender-bending lover Lucy (Brian Charles Rooney) occasionally ignites the stage, but for vast, listless stretches, you wonder: When did theater of alienation become theater of anesthesia? (Tickets: 212-719-1300)