Happy End

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Production dates: May 07, 1977 - July 10, 1977
Venue: Martin Beck Theatre
Directed by: Robert Kalfin
Literature: Kurt Weill, Elisabeth Hauptmann, Bertolt Brecht
Costume Design: Carrie F. Robbins
Set Design: Robert U. Taylor
Music: Roland Gagnon

A three-act musical comedy by Kurt Weill, Elisabeth Hauptmann, and Bertolt Brecht - reminiscent of, but not the source of, the better-known musical "Guys and Dolls". A gang of criminals is hanging out in Bill's Beer Hall plotting their shakedown of a local pharmacist while waiting for their mysterious female boss named The Fly (Grayson Hall) and her top tough guy Bill Cracker (Christopher Lloyd). A Salvation Army band begins to play out on the street. Sister Lilian (Meryl Streep) brings the band inside the bar, and begins to try to convert the gang.

Grayson Hall (The Fly), Christopher Lloyd (Bill Cracker), Meryl Streep (Lieutenant Lillian Holiday), Benjamin Rayson (Sam Wurlitzer), Liz Sheridan (Major Stone), Tony Azito (Dr. Nakamura), Raymond J. Barry (Johnny Flint), Alexandra Borrie (Sister Jane), Christopher Cara (Brother Ben Owens), John A. Coe (Jimmy Dexter), Donna Emmanuel (Miriam), Joe Grifasi (Captain Hannibal Jackson)

Due to a leg injury, Christopher Lloyd did not perform on opening night; Bob Gunton went on until Mr. Lloyd could resume the role on crutches. “Happy End” received three Tony Award nominations in 1977, for Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score for Kurt Weil’s music and Bertolt Brecht and Michael Feingold’s lyrics. Meryl Streep received a Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Musical.

New York Magazine, May 09 1977
The Chelsea Theater produced the Weil-Brecht Happy End of 1929, also, alas, unsatisfactionarily. Brecht’s silly story (gangster guys and Salvation Army dolls in Chicago) was made even sillier by Robert Kaflin, who passed moronic jokes onto Michael Feingold’s decent translation, and my Kaflin’s staging, a burlesque of Keystone Kop routines. Yet, Happy End has some of the best Brecht-Weil songs, including “Surabaya Jonny”, which, I could easily argue, is the greatest song ever written for theater. At Brooklyn this was chirped, rather than sung, by Meryl Streep, and nothing else in this grossly erroneous production was very much better. The show closed last weekend, although the producers are already planning to bring it to Broadway. I can’t imagine why.

Time Magazine, June 13, 1977
The players invest the slapdash plot with wit and perfect timing. Wheeling on crutches necessitated by a recent stage fall, Lloyd’s Bill has a saturnine piratical mien worthy of Long John Silver. Though slightly reedy of voice, Meryl Streep renders the Brecht lines with impeccable intelligence. The marvel of the evening is the Kurt Weill score, arguably superior to that of The Threepenny Opera.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 1, 1977
A stylish, energetic cast that functions as a real company. Meryl Streep, as Lillian, projects her own very individual personality, rather than attempting to imitate the legendary Lenya. Her “Surabaya Johnny” is whimsical, almost innocent in its effect, and quite moving on its own terms. The Lenya style, mixed with a bit of Carol Channing, comes through in Grayson Hall’s hilarious characterization of the lady in the gray called “Fly”, Christopher Lloyd portrays Bill Cracker as a somewhat conventional gangster type, but that is partly the nature of the role, and he partners Miss Streep fittingly.

☆   Drama Desk Award – Outstanding Actress in a Musical