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Happy End (1929)

Comedy with music, in three acts (in German).
Book by Dorothy Lane, pseudonym for Elisabeth Hauptmann and Bertolt Brecht.
Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht.

Also see English adaptation by Michael Feingold, and Happy End Songspiel, arranged by David Drew.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recordings
Press Clippings

Photo of backdrop

Final tableau from original production, Berlin, 1929.
The stained-glass windows depict Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller, from left to right.

Performance Information

Cast: Singing roles -- Bill Cracker (high baritone), Sam Worlitzer (baritone), Hanibal Jackson (baritone), Lilian Holiday (soprano), Lady in Grey (mezzo-soprano), Jane (mezzo); chorus, SATB.
Speaking roles -- Dr. Nakamura, Jimmy Dexter, Bob Merker, Johnny Flint, Salvation Army Captain, Mary, Miriam.
Orchestra: alto sax (fl, picc, cl); ten. sax (baritone sax, cl); tpt; tbn; banjo (Hawaiian guitar or mandolin, bandoneon or accordion, bass guitar); perc (2nd tpt); piano (harmonium).
Duration: full evening, 45 minutes music
Published Editions: English text and lyrics, Samuel French, SF 10019
piano-vocal score (German-English, 1976), Universal Edition, UE 11685
study score (German-English, 1981), Universal Edition, UE 17243
Performance Rights and Rentals: USA, CAN: EAMC
UK, BREV: FBE/EAMC
All other territories: FBE/UE
First Production: September 2, 1929, Berlin, Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Erich Engel, dir., Theo Mackeben, cond.

Guide to orchestration, territory abbreviations, and publishers' symbols.

Synopsis

Act I

Christmas Eve in Bill's Ballhaus in Chicago. Bill Cracker's criminal gang discusses past capers. When Bill arrives, he announces that he has killed his arch-rival, Gorilla Baxley. The gang celebrates ("Bilbao Song"). The Lady in Gray (a.k.a. The Fly) enters and outlines the next robbery, giving each man his instructions. She asks the Governor, a gang member, to light her cigarette, the signal that he is expendable. The next scene opens on the street, as Lieutenant Lilian Holiday of the Salvation Army leads the soldiers in song ("Obacht, gebt Obacht"). Then the Army marches into Bill's, to the consternation of the gangsters ("Geht hinein in die Schlacht").They begin a church service; when the gang ridicules Lilian, she continues to preach. Nonetheless, only Bill's entrance saves her from further insult. When he orders the Army out of the bar, she stays. Then the rest of the gang exits; Bill and Lillian have a glass of whisky together and she hears what sounds like a gunshot from the kitchen. Lilian has a little too much to drink and launches into a risqué song ("Was die Herren Matrosen sagen"). Unfortunately, an Army member returns as she finishes. Lilian realizes that he will tell her superiors, but she makes one last effort to convert Bill, telling him he will go to hell. He throws her out of the bar.

Act II

The Major orders Lilian to pack up and leave, but he relents after Lilian sings the "Matrosen-Song" again with some crucial changes to the words. Bill enters and praises her evangelical skills. Then the police commissioner comes on the scene; Bill leaves hurriedly. The commissioner interrogates Lilian about a killing that took place in the kitchen of Bill's establishment. She claims she can’t remember whether she and Bill were alone together in the bar. The commissioner leaves and Bill re-enters to ask what she told the commissioner. He is angry when he realizes she did not give him an alibi. After he leaves, Lilian confesses to the Major, who dismisses her summarily. Sam, a gang member, enters and takes a seat; then Bill returns, drunk. The service begins ("Bruder, gib dir einen Stoss"). Another Army soldier tries to deliver Lilian's sermon, but the crowd demands Lilian, and Bill disrupts the service. The Major reproves Bill and tries to keep going ("Fürchte dich nicht"). Bill demands to see Lilian as Sam exits, and the Major calls for another hymn ("In der Jugend gold'nem Schimmer"). Finally the Major admits that Lilian has been expelled. Bill storms out as the congregation sings "Lied vom Branntweinhändler."

Act III

The gang, minus the Governor, who has disappeared, assembles in the bar ("Mandelay-Song"). The Fly's voice is heard from offstage, giving instructions and dispensing alibis for the big heist that night. As the gang exits, Lilian comes in for one more try to save Bill ("Surabaya Johnny"). Bill is moved but won't admit it ("Lied von der harten Nuss") as the Fly sneaks in the back door and looks on. Bill realizes he has failed to fulfill his assignment as the Fly enters and asks him for a light. Lilian, in despair, resolves to return to the Salvation Army. The gang enters, flushed with success, until they realize that Bill failed to pick up the loot. Then the Fly reveals that she has it, and that Bill must die before he blows the whistle on the gang ("Ballade von der Höllenlili"). Lilian returns to the Salvation Army, but they spurn her; likewise with Bill when he arrives. Lilian appeals to their Christian spirit, without success, until the gang members enter to finish Bill off. Then the commissioner returns to arrest the gang for bank robbery and Bill for murder. But he fails--the Governor reappears with only a slight wound, and the gang members recite their alibis. Midnight strikes, and the Fly walks in. As she points her gun at Bill, one of the Salvation Army members recognizes her as his long-lost wife. She donates the loot to the Salvation Army as Bill and Lilian announce their engagement, and the gang decides to take over the bank they've just robbed and merge it with the Salvation Army ("Obacht, gebt Obacht" reprise).

Song list

Bilbao-Song
Der kleine Leutnant des lieben Gottes
Geht hinein in die Schlacht
Was die Herren Matrosen sagen (Matrosen-Tango)
Bruder, gib dir einen Stoß
Fürchte dich nicht
In der Jugend gold'nem Schimmer
Das Lied vom Branntweinhändler
Der Song von Mandelay
Surabaya-Johnny
Das Lied von der harten Nuss
Die Ballade von der Höllen-Lili
Hosiannah Rockefeller

Recordings

CBS MK 42636
CD reissue: Sony Classical 82876 78754 2; reissued as Sony Classical 88691932192
Lotte Lenya, Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg, cond. [arrangement]
Capriccio CD 60 015-1 (reissued on Capriccio C7184) Gabriele Ramm, Walter Raffeiner, Karin Ploog, Steven Kimbrough, Pro Musica Köln, König Ensemble, Jan Latham-König, cond.

Press Clippings

"Time and again [the songs] strike a note of haunting nostalgia that could almost make you cry."
--Daily Mail, 1965

"Brecht-Weill never produced better songs than in Happy End."
--Jack Kroll, Newsweek, 1972

"The Weill score is a rich, smoky evocation of Chicago in 1919, full of laments, hymns, anthems, calls to social revolution, and of course, 'The Bilbao Song,' which . . . is in its own word, 'fantastic.'"
--Mel Gussow, New York Times, 1972

"A delight . . . constantly entertaining . . . . The music is sheer genius. A musical that needs no recommendation other than itself. It charms, it giggles and it moves."
--Clive Barnes, New York Times, 1977

"Happy End is a treat: musical comedy with a wicked leer and some of Kurt Weill's most sinuously seductive songs . . . . The score is a beauty with its hymns . . . aggressive declarations . . . and silken ballads.
--Douglas Watt, Daily News, 1977

"Weill creates a dramatic internal rhetoric by alternating abrasive, staccato jazz-tempo passages with langorous melodies of rich and striking beauty."
--T.E. Kalem, New York Magazine, 1977

"Gritty, angry and harsh . . . totally captivating in an iconoclastic way . . . . Happy End deserves to be seen . . . . There's no denying the power of Weill's daring music."
--Hap Erstein, Washington Times, 1984

"[Brecht's] lyrics . . . drew out of Kurt Weill a torrent of music that ranks among the best theater songs of his or anyone else's time."
--Alan Rich, L.A. Daily News, 1990

"The whole show is terrific."
--Richard Ouzounian, Toronto Star, 2003

"Flat-out fun, with just enough comic-strip exaggeration to register indelibly."
--Stewart Brown, Toronto Sun, 2003

"Pure, unadulterated and acerbic joy. The Happy End score, from 1929, proves to be every bit as flavorful as its 1928 predecessor, The Threepenny Opera. Another Threepenny, with an arguably richer score."
--Steven Suskin, Playbill, 2007

"A brassy, entertaining evening in the theater . . . apparently giving the performers just as much pleasure as it gives the audience . . . . Delightful."
--Hilde Haider-Pregler, Wiener Zeitung, 2010