Rich Rogue Arts

Beg, Borrow, and Steal—The Show

Beg, Borrow and Steal is a celebration of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera as interpreted by Frederic Austin, Benjamin Britten, Richard Bonynge and Douglas Gamley, Kurt Weill, and Duke Ellington, plus new arrangements by Richard Link.

“Be the author who he will, we push his play as far as it will go.”

Depending upon your needs and circumstances Beg, Borrow and Steal can be presented as a recital (all songs and no dialogue) or as a theatrical piece utilizing dialogue, dance, costumes and lighting.

The five versions of The Beggar’s Opera we explore are:

1. Frederic Austin

This arrangement of The Beggar’s Opera was performed at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith with “new settings of the airs and additional music by Frederic Austin” in 1920. It was a huge hit and ran for 1,463 consecutive performances. Mr. Austin was a well known and respected professional singer, teacher and composer.

2. Benjamin Britten

Benjamin Britten’s setting was written for the English Opera Group and first performed in 1948 in Cambridge at The Arts Theatre. It was subsequently performed at the Holland Festival, the Cheltenham Festival, the Festival du Littoral Belgique, and at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Mr. Britten set the piece in a laundry frequented by beggars. He used all but 3 of the original songs and additional dialogue was written by its producer, Tyrone Guthrie.

3. Richard Bonynge and Douglas Gamley

This version was conceived by noted conductor and musicologist Richard Bonynge and Douglas Gamley for Australian Opera in 1981. Bonynge created an operatic version and scored it for a full symphony orchestra. About the opera Bonynge says:

“The musical language of the new version is that of the present day, with at least some of the satirical element of the original retained by gentle parodying of a wide-range or eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth-century musical styles.”

4. Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht

Undoubtedly the most well-known adaptation is Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera which premiered on August 31, 1928 in Berlin. Brecht’s secretary, Elizabeth Hauptmann, saw the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of 1920 and translated the play into German. This translation was the basis for Brecht’s adaptation of the story. Brecht approached Kurt Weill to write the music who at first was very skeptical.
Within one year, 46 new productions of the piece had been performed across Europe.
The original German version has been performed more than 10,000 times and translated into 18 languages. The most famous English version, by Marc Blitzstein, was first performed in 1952 at Brandeis University with Leonard Bernstein conducting. The show was restaged in New York at the off-Broadway Theatre de Lys in Greenwich Village, opening on March 10, 1954. This production ran until 1961, with over 2,600 performances which was, at the time, the longest running musical in history.

5. Duke Ellington

Our final version is Duke Ellington’s Beggar’s Holiday with lyrics and book by John Latouche which premiered on Broadway in 1946 and ran for 111 performances. It debuted six years before Kurt Weill’s work was introduced to the American theatre-going public. Beggar’s Holiday was revived, in an updated version by Dale Wasserman, last year in California. Richard Link has written new arrangements of these songs for our production.