"The Threepenny Opera" cast
"The Threepenny Opera" cast surrounds bandit and womanizer Capt. Macheath in a dress rehearsal for the third UCI production of the Tony Award-winning play. Paul R. Kennedy

“The Threepenny Opera,” opening Friday, Nov. 13, at UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, may have been written more than 80 years ago, but the characters’ struggles with unemployment, homelessness, love and revenge are just as timely today, says Keith Fowler, drama professor and the production’s director.

The Tony Award-winning play – enjoying its third revival at UCI – has something of a star-studded history here. Robert Cohen, founding chair of the drama department, directed the campus’s first “Threepenny Opera” in 1980 and cast Donna Soto-Morettini as Mrs. Peachum.

Soto-Morettini went on to earn a doctorate at Oxford University and become head of musical theater at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama. She returned to UCI to coach this year’s cast.

Eli Simon, drama department chair, directed the campus’s 1993 version of the Bertolt Brecht work.

Fowler, who directed a professional production of the jazz masterpiece earlier in his career, says he wanted to stage the play again because its “phenomenal score and political bite make it such a powerful contribution to music theater.”

“Audiences love composer Kurt Weill’s finger-snapping score,” he notes, “which ranges from lyrical arias and tangos to stirring anthems and bawdy ballads and includes the extraordinary song ‘Mack the Knife.’ ”

Based on “The Beggar’s Opera” by John Gay, “The Threepenny Opera” is a social commentary set in Victorian London that exhibits the delectable decadence seen later in “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “Sweeney Todd.”

It tells the tale of bandit and womanizer Capt. Macheath, who elopes with Polly, the only daughter of J.J. Peachum. A businessman who organizes the city’s beggars, Peachum wants his son-in-law arrested – despite the fact that Macheath’s protector is the corrupt police chief.

After Peachum threatens to disrupt Queen Victoria’s coronation parade by loosing hordes of beggars into the streets, Macheath is finally captured – and must face the dreaded gallows.

Evening and matinee shows are scheduled through Nov. 21 at the campus’s Claire Trevor Theatre. Tickets are $28 for the general public, $25 for seniors and groups, and $12 for UCI students and children. They can be purchased through Ticketmaster.com or the UCI Arts Box Office, 949-824-2787.

Viewer discretion is advised due to the play’s adult theme and content.