The Threepenny Opera


Writers: Bertolt Brecht Elisabeth Hauptmann Kurt Weill


Show Information

Conceived By
Based on the Play/Book/Film
The Beggar's Opera, by John Gay
Number of Acts
First Produced
Comedy, Dark Comedy
Period, Simple/No Set
Time & Place
victorian london
Cast Size
Orchestra Size
Musical Staging
Ideal for
College/University, Diverse Cast, Ensemble Cast, Large Cast, Mature Audiences, Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes early teen, late teen, young adult, adult, mature adult, elderly, child characters


The Threepenny Opera is a biting satire of the post-war rise of capitalism, wrapped up in Weill's jazzy score, and the tale of Macheath (Mack the Knife), a debonair crime lord on the verge of turning his illegal empire into a legitimate business.

When Macheath marries young Polly Peachum, her father is enraged. Jonathan Peachum controls the beggars of London, and he strives to get Macheath hanged. Unfortunately for him, the chief of police is an old friend of Macheath’s.

Nevertheless, Peachum exerts considerable political influence, and eventually Macheath is arrested and imprisoned. He escapes, only to become imprisoned once more. Luckily, a hard-riding messenger from the Queen arrives at the last minute to pardon Macheath and to issue him a baronetcy.

Although Elisabeth Hauptmann (Brecht’s lover at the time) provided most of the book and in fact conceived the project, Bertolt Brecht did his best to conceal this and is usually given full credit for the script and lyrics of Threepenny. Songs from Threepenny have become classic standards, including “Pirate Jenny” and most notably, “Mack the Knife,” which has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Michael Buble.

Lead Characters

The Threepenny Opera guide sections