Oh, it wasn't just the shark that had pretty teeth, dear, when Sting opened as Mack the Knife last week in a new Broadway revival of The Threepenny Opera. No sooner had the curtain been rung down on opening night of a planned nine-month run of the musical than sharp-toothed critics scented blood in the water. "Sting is a stiff onstage," said the New York Timers Frank Rich, ripping off a chunk of the erstwhile rocker's thespian rep. "He seems to hope that a large cane and a smug, insistent pout will somehow convey menace..."

The panning wasn't unexpected; the production had been troubled since its four-week tryout in Washington, D.C. "Sting-ey," director John Dexter had reportedly admonished his star in rehearsals, "you're not playing to the deaf and blind. So you don't need a gesture on every point."

But Sting has always liked to reach. Well before the Police broke up in 1987, he had branched out into movies, earning decent reviews in Dune and Plenty. He also pitted his intellect against social issues such as the destruction of the rain forest. Not surprisingly, Sting was drawn to the classic Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical—set in decadent 19th-century London—by its political content. "It asks an important question: How can you get people to obey the rules of society when they don't have a stake in the society?" he said.

The question in most critics' minds was a different one: How to convey fully their dismay. No matter: First-nighters gave Sting a standing ovation. Later he was feted by Glenn Close, Rau Julia, Pierce Brosnan and Jodie Foster. And healthy advance ticket sales guarantee the play a good run. "He's having the time of his life," said his publicist. "He didn't go into this for the reviews. He thought it would be a tremendous challenge."

In that, at least, he was right on the mark.