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Happy End: English Adaptation (1972)

Comedy with music, in three acts.
Original German book by Dorothy Lane, pseudonym for Elisabeth Hauptmann and Bertolt Brecht.
Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht.
English adaptation of book and lyrics by Michael Feingold.

Also see Happy End, in the original German version.

Performance Information
Synopsis
Song List
Recording
Press Clippings

Poster

Part of poster for a production at the Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada, 1989.

Performance Information

Cast: Singing roles -- Bill Cracker (high baritone), Sam Wurlitzer (baritone), Captain Hannibal Jackson (tenor), Dr. Nakamura (baritone), Johnny Flint (baritone), Lieutenant Lilian Holiday (soprano), A Lady in Gray (mezzo-soprano), Sister Jane (mezzo); chorus, SATB.
Speaking roles -- Jimmy Dexter, Bob Marker, Miriam, Major Stone, Sister Mary, Brother Ben Owens.
Orchestra: alto sax (picc, fl, cl); ten. sax (bar. sax, cl); tpt, tbn; banjo (Hawaiian guitar or mandolin, bandoneon or accordion, bass guitar); perc (2nd tpt); piano (harmonium).
Duration: full evening, 40 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: April 6, 1972, New Haven, Yale Repertory Theatre, Michael Posnick, dir., Thomas Fay, cond.

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

Synopsis

Act I

After a choral prologue sung by the company ("Hosannah Rockefeller"), the action begins in Bill's Beer Hall in Chicago, as Bill Cracker's criminal gang plots their next caper. When Bill arrives, he confirms that a big heist is coming up under the direction of his boss, The Fly. The gang celebrates upon hearing the news ("Bilbao Song"). The Fly enters and asks Bill to light her cigarette, the signal that Bill is expendable and needs to be killed, as the gang looks on in shock. After Bill exits, the next scene opens as the Salvation Army, led by Lilian Holiday, marches into the bar ("Lieutenants of the Lord"). They try to convert the sinners ("March Ahead"); when the gang ridicules Lilian, she stands up to them bravely. Nonetheless, only Bill's entrance saves her from further insult. When he orders the Army out of the bar, she stays. Then Bill dismisses the rest of the gang and brings Lilian a drink. She tries to guide him to salvation first with a Bible story, then a racy song ("The Sailors' Tango"). Unfortunately, the Army members return as she finishes the song, and she is disgraced. Then a cop enters and arrests Bill for a shooting that took place while they were alone together. Lilian, fearing further scandal, refuses to back up his alibi.

Act II

Lilian faces her superiors at the Salvation Army and manages to restore her reputation, until the cop enters and Lilian admits that she had been alone with Bill when the shooting occurred. She is summarily dismissed, even though her replacements cannot match her fervor or intelligence. As they begin the nightly service ("Brother, Give Yourself a Shove"), the scene shifts to Bill's bar, where his second-in-command, the Governor, explains why Bill had to be framed for murder ("Song of the Big Shot"). We return to the mission, where the service continues ("Don't Be Afraid"). Bill enters and decides to stay ("In Our Childhood’s Bright Endeavor"), even though Lilian isn't there. The scene changes back to the bar; Lilian enters and informs the gang members that Bill is out of jail, so the gang members dash back to the mission to do him in. The Governor enters the mission, gun drawn, and tells the Army members to keep going ("The Liquor Dealer's Dream"). He forces Bill outside at gunpoint, and a struggle and gunshot are heard offstage. Bill dashes inside and leaves through the back window as Lilian returns.

Act III

Christmas Eve. The gang, minus the Governor, assembles in the bar ("The Mandalay Song"). The Fly's voice comes in through a gramophone to give instructions and dispense 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 ("Song of the Big Shot" reprise) as the Fly sneaks in the back door and looks on. Bill realizes he has failed to fulfill his assignment and rushes out. 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 ("Ballad of the Lily of Hell"). 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 cop 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 join the Salvation Army so they can fight their common enemy, heartless capitalists ("Lieutenants of the Lord" reprise).

Song list

Prologue - Hosannah Rockefeller
The Bilbao Song
Lieutenants of the Lord (I)
March Ahead
The Sailors' Tango
Brother, Give Yourself a Shove
Song of the Big Shot
Don't Be Afraid
In Our Childhood's Bright Endeavor
The Liquor Dealer's Dream
The Mandalay Song
Surabaya Johnny
Ballad of the Lily of Hell
Finale: Lieutenants of the Lord (II)

Recording

Ghostlight CD 7915584418-2 Charlotte Cohn, Peter Macon, et al., Constantine Kitsopoulos, cond. (American Conservatory Theatre)

Press Clippings

"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