Shark Week Special: Mack the Knife at Arkansas Rep

1976 Gazette photo by Steve Keesee

1976 Gazette photo of Cliff Baker by Steve Keesee

In honor of Shark Week and the upcoming 40th anniversary season at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, a quick look back at the Rep’s first production.

In November 1976, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s debut production was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  In the Marc Blitzstein translation, the opening song begins with these appropriate-for-Shark Week lyrics:

Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear,
And he shows them pearly white;
Just a jack-knife has Macheath, dear,
And he keeps it out of sight!

When the shark bites with his teeth, dear,
Scarlet billows start to spread;
Fancy gloves, though, wears Macheath, dear,
So there’s not a trace of red!

Often called “Mack the Knife” the song’s title is officially “Moritat” which translates to “Deadly Deed.”  In the original Arkansas Rep production, the song was sung about the Rep’s founder and artistic director Cliff Baker who played Macheath.  He also directed this production.  Others in the cast included Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Quick, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.

In his review in the Arkansas Gazette, Bill Lewis called the production “memorable” and that it achieved the intentions of the authors.  He praised the cast, the designers and orchestra as well as Baker’s directing.   All in all, it was an auspicious beginning which has prepared the Rep well.

Interestingly, the Rep’s 40th season starts with another blood-thirsty Mack. This one, Mackers or the Thane of Cawdor, headlines Shakespeare’s Scottish Play. This Mac spends a lot of time on the heath, so it seems a very appropriate way to pay homage to the inaugural Rep production. The Rep’s 40th season kicks off on September 11.