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Obies at 60: Remembering the first Best Musical, Weill's Threepenny Opera

by Regina Spurlock | Tom Carlson | Sunday, May 17, 2015

"When [The Threepenny Opera] opened in 1954, there were seven off-Broadway theaters," says Kim Kowalke, president and CEO of the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York. "When it closed, there were 38." Not only was the Marc Blitzstein translation of the 1928 German work (which itself was a reworking of the 1728 Beggars Opera by John Gay) an unexpected run-away hit, not only did it have a number of its songs make the jump from the showtune realm to become mainstream pop classics -- "Mack the Knife" alone sold more than ten million records -- it also holds a special place in the history of the Village Voice. See, The Threepenny Opera was reviewed in the very first issue of the newly founded weekly. And it won the first Best Musical Obie 60 years ago. But more than that, as Kowalke explains, "It changed the whole notion of what is the relationship of off-Broadway to Broadway. It demonstrated that you could have a mega-hit off-Broadway and it wasn't just the poor second cousin to the Broadway legitimate theater."

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