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BYU's "Beggar's Opera" updated to pop fashion world of MTV

Opens March 26 at Pardoe Theatre

The Brigham Young University Department of Theatre and Media Arts will present an electric, updated version of the 18th century classic "The Beggar’s Opera" by John Gay opening Friday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m. in the Pardoe Theatre.

Performances run Tuesdays through Saturdays through Saturday, April 10. Preview performances are Wednesday, March 24, and Thursday, March 25. A matinee performance will be held Saturday, March 27, at 2 p.m. The Saturday, April 3, performance will begin at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets at $12 with $3 off with a BYU or student ID are available through the Fine Arts Ticket Office, (801) 378-4322 or at Tickets for all seats for previews and matinee performances are $5.

In this modern retelling of the most popular play of the 18th century, the classic battle between Polly Peachum and Lucy Lockit for the affections of Mack “the Knife” is fought on the stage of a music awards show.

The line separating the underworld of beggars and thieves and the MTV world of rock stars will be crossed in a pastiche of dark intrigues, star-studded romances, high-fashion statements and electrifying performances designed to rock both the senses and any sense of complacency about the music we listen to every day.

The play is directed by Megan Sanborn Jones and is adapted by Melissa Leilani Larson.

The play is a ballad opera, with words from the original script being sung to contemporary hits like “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce, 'N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye” and “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. Older characters in the play will sing tunes from their generation, like “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night.

“When it was originally written, it was a satire of Handel’s operas,” Sanborn Jones said. “We have tried to make it read to contemporary audiences, and it’s kind of like the 1728 version of 'Weird Al' Yankovic.”

In keeping with the production's emphasis on showcasing student work, original music for the play was also written by Matt Lewis and Matt Wood.

Sanborn Jones says the message of the original play is that the upper class doesn’t have a corner on the market of morality. In an effort to bring audiences a more contemporary piece, an emphasis is placed on pop culture.

“Popular rock stars have an especially pervasive influence on our culture,” she said. “While we may not consciously pattern our dress or behavior on these stars, we frequently accept their images without questioning their power to shape the way that we see the world around us."

"Our production wants you to ask yourselves, ‘What kind of music do I listen to?’ I am convinced that the way to counter the dangers of pervasive music media influence is not to stop listening to popular music—simply to be more judicious listeners, more thoughtful viewers and more critical consumers,” she said.

She also said she hopes the satire does not produce a knee-jerk reaction, giving audiences the impression the cast and crew are completely condemning popular culture.

“It’s always a tough thing when you’re doing a satire,” she said. “You have to present both negatives and positives in the extreme. We hope people won’t walk away convinced never to listen to rock again, but to think about its impact. We can enjoy contemporary music, but we need to be thoughtful about what we listen to and in what format.”

Sanborn Jones says she thinks the nearly 300-year-old play, which has been remade several times, is still popular because of its innovativeness and its message.

“It’s amazing to see how prevalent the things John Gay was saying still are today,” she said. “Both the rich and the poor are susceptible to corruption. The original intent was to show that we shouldn’t just look up to upper classes and assume they’re moral people who we should love and worship.”

Despite the play’s age, Sanborn Jones says she doesn’t think there has ever been a more contemporary piece at the university. Moreover, the play features student work in the forms of adaptation, choreography, music, acting and design.

“People should come because it’s a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, funny piece that also has a moral message,” she said.

Cast members include Matthew Hill, Ryan Simmons, Heather Brinkerhoff, Kimberley Nelson Hirt, Chelsea Lynn Toler, Forrest Foster, Ty Turley, Libby Marshall, Cory Stephens, Jared Allen Shaver, Kyle Leybas, Ryan Bott, Matthew Flynn Bellows, Jenna Rockwood Sessions, Katrina Orcutt, Courtney M. Nelson, Brittany Belinski and Chelsey Pullman.

The production team includes scenic designer Eric Fielding; music director Korianne Orton Johnson; choreographer Libby Marshall; dramaturgs Allison Hansen and Marianne Smith; production stage manager Ben Hess; costume designer Lara Beene; makeup and hair designer Sarah Kate Lock; lighting designer Michael Handley; and sound designers Emily Severson and Nathan Hesson.

For more information contact Megan Sanborn Jones, (801) 422-1321.

Writer: Rachel M. Sego

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