Happy End Reviews

Happy End
by Bertolt Brecht
Music by Kurt Weill
Opened January 22, 2005
ran through June 12, 2005

Los Angeles Weekly – Pick Of The Week

Happy End

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht collaborated on lyrics and music of extraordinary vitality and depth. Happy End, written in 1929 (book and lyrics adapted by Michael Feingold), followed on the heels of the enormously successful The Threepenny Opera, and is a delightful departure from Brecht’s otherwise gloomy theatrical vision. The action takes place in Chicago 1919, where, in Bill’s Beer Hall, an amusing band of thieves, murderers and villains gather with catchy monikers like “The Fly,” “Baby Face” and “The Professor.” The leader of the pack is the surly, ill-tempered Irishman Bill Cracker (Timothy Murphy), the type of fellow who takes no lip or prisoners. But when Sister Lillian Holiday (Lesley Fera), a Salvation Army worker, arrives with her dedicated group of soul savers, miracles are in the air, and things at the beer hall will never quite be the same. Director Dan Bonnell’s stylized touch makes this piece a delight from start to finish. The extensive musical selections are knockouts, sung with passion and sass by an outstanding cast, with Dean Mora crackling on the piano under the direction of Carolyn Mignini. Charles Erven’s ramshackle set piece serves as a perfect backdrop, and Audrey’s Eisner’s period costumes are equally impressive. Pacific Resident Theater, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru March 27. (310) 822-8392.

—Lovell Estell III

Southern CA January 28, 2005

Happy End Reviewed By Les Spindle

“Happy End” presented by and at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thu.-Sat. 8 pm, Sun. 3 pm. Jan. 22-Mar. a27. $22-27.50. (310) 822-8392.

Not since David Schweizer’s inspired 1999 Actors’ Gang revival of the chestnut Broadway have we seen such a flawless re-creation of 1920s era musical-comedy stylization. Unashamedly reveling in the exhilarating burlesque silliness of the antiquated conventions, while providing a fascinating historical glimpse at the roots of the Bertolt Brecht–Kurt Weill legacy, director Dan Bonnell’s production triumphs on all levels. As evidenced here, Loesser’s Guys and Dolls and the works of Kander and Ebb–particularly Cabaret–owe a debt to concepts pioneered by the legendary German collaborators. Premiering in 1929, on the heels of The Threepenny Opera, this lighthearted mobsters-and-dames musical flopped commercially, but the score has achieved classic status with its seamless blend of masterful Brecht lyrics and top-drawer Weill music. The indelible songs encompass themes of anti-capitalism, spiritual reform, romance, and nostalgia, highlighted by the lilting “Bilbao Song.”

Bonnell has elicited a painstakingly authentic physical design that’s as important as the richly nuanced performances in reinvigorating this ancient comic melodrama. Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting expertly captures the edgy sensibility beneath the broadly comic shenanigans, as does Charles Erven and Travis Gale Lewis’ beautifully textured, burnished-brown set. Audrey Eisner’s costumes, Jeff Henry’s sound effects, and the uncredited makeup contribute to the stunningly effective ambience. Carolyn Mignini’s music direction and Dean Mora’s piano accompaniment are likewise exemplary.

And then there’s that smashing ensemble–not a weak link in the bunch. Timothy V. Murphy’s thick-brogued gang leader Bill Cracker projects smoldering sexuality and a crackling sense of danger. As his surprising love interest, Salvation Army stalwart Sister Lillian, Lesley Fera is a delight; she soars in the haunting ballads “The Sailor’s Tango” and “Surabaya Johnny.” Tassos Pappas is hilarious as the doltish crook Baby Face, complete with padded Porky Pig cheeks. Matthew Elkins excels in his slapstick pratfalls as high-strung Brother Jackson. Christopher Shaw is funny yet subtly chilling as the conniving Dr. Nakamura, a Charlie Chan–type character, who wisely hasn’t been watered down to fit contemporary ideas of political correctness. Celebrating its 20th anniversary, PRT is presenting the same show it opened with in 1985, making this Happy End more of a felicitous rebirth.

Happy End
Pacific Resident Theatre
LA Times Critics Choices – Stage

703-707 Venice Blvd., Venice

In 1929, after the landmark “Threepenny Opera,” Berlin producer Ernst-Josef Aufricht asked Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill for a follow-up: “Happy End.” This “comic melodrama with songs” about a criminal barkeep and a Salvation Army lassie in 1919 Chicago echoes “Major Barbara” and presages “Guys and Dolls.”

Brecht’s disdain for the commercial endeavor wreaked havoc at rehearsals. On opening night, his actress wife, Helene Weigel, capped collaborator Elizabeth Hauptmann’s makeshift Act 3 with Marxist polemic. The audience rebelled, “Happy End” flopped and Brecht banned it from his published works.

Over the decades, Weill’s sublime music resisted obscurity, producing standards in “The Bilbao Song,” “The Sailors’ Tango” and “Surabaya Johnny.” Michael Feingold’s lauded 1972 adaptation for Yale Rep led to the 1977 Broadway staging with Christopher Lloyd and Meryl Streep. In 1985, “Happy End” inaugurated Pacific Resident Theatre. As its 20th anniversary approaches, the company revisits the show, with triumphant results.

Director Dan Bonnell sustains a sure touch, from the picket-line prologue, “Hosanna Rockefeller,” to the humanitarian finale. His sterling forces embrace the social satire and music-hall moxie. As antihero Bill Cracker, virile Timothy V. Murphy enjoys dangerous chemistry with Lesley Fera’s marvelous Lillian Holiday.

Christopher Shaw inhales the period stereotypes of Dr. Nakamura, a role originated by Peter Lorre. Martha Hackett lends tongue-in-cheek menace to the Fly (Weigel’s part). Underworld cronies William Lithgow, Andrew Parks, Tassos Pappas, Rebecca Crandall and Barry Kramer carouse away with the house.

Sarah Brooke, Matthew Elkins, Amy Huntington, Tracie Lockwood and Norman Scott make delicious missionaries. Max Wright’s narrator, Travis Terry’s cop and Andrew LaFebre’s puppet-assisted beggars complete a first-rate troupe.

Sets by Charles Erven and Travis Gale Lewis, sound by Jeff Henry and lighting by Jeremy Pivnick merge seedy tavern, Canal Street mission and Weimar limbo. Costume designer Audrey Eisner gives the gang plastic hair or features, one of many wry notions.

Purists may miss Weill’s charts, but pianist Dean Mora lands their essence with virtuosity, and musical director Carolyn Mignini produces authentic, abrupt Sprechstimme. At times, such definitive assurance makes this revival seem, to quote “Bilbao Song,” fantastic, beyond belief.

David C. Nichols – Special to The Times – Jan. 28, 2005

Through Mar. 27: Sundays: 3 p.m. , Thursdays: 8 p.m. Fridays: 8 p.m. Saturdays: 8 p.m.

Price: $22-$27.50: Box office: 310-822-8392


It is the 20th anniversary of the award winning Pacific Resident Theatre. They have a glorious new production of the first show they ever produced, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s musical “Happy End”, book and lyrics adapted by Michael Feingold. This irrisistible musical tale is set in 1919 Chicago with a colorful story, which is a giant departure from their usually somber tales.

The story is set in touch Irishman Billy Cracker’s (Timothy Murphy) beer hall, and he is one BAD holligan. The place attracts similar ruffians with hip nicknames. The Professor (William Lithgow), the Ganger Leader The Fly (Martha Hackett), and naturally there is a baby face (Tassos Pappas). One night a Salvation Army worker Sister Lillian (Lesley Fera) comes along with her determined band of followers. They are out to save the souls of these sinners.

Dan Bonnell’s tight direction, on Charles Erven’s shanty environment set is a blast. The suave score includes some of Brecht-Weills most mesmerizing tunes, sung with bold brashness, from excellent voices, by this outstanding cast. Fera’s voice shines as a beacon, under musical director Carolyn Mignini, with Dean Mora on the piano. It is our Critic’s Pick!.

“Happy End” playing at the Pacific Resident Theatre located at 703 Venice Boulevard, plays Thusday through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. For reservations and information please call the Theatre Box Office at Area Code (310) 822-8392.

CANYON NEWS: Parallel Happiness Posted by Beverly Wilkerson on Mar 6, 2005, 12:32

Some think that capitalism is the bad seed and that happiness can blossom only under socialist principles. Bertolt Brecht was an adherent of that thought, but his own happy end was stifled when his works were banned in 1930 Nazi Germany. Brecht disdained the call of the Rockefellers and Fords but apparently it had a louder knell than the oppression he faced in his own country, so Brecht fled to the freedom of America shortly after opening “Happy End” in Berlin in 1929.

“Happy End’s” depiction of the underworld with the savers of souls of the Salvation Army converging at Bill’s Bar actually has an uncharacteristic lightness. It was just this lack of depth that became its unhappiest shortfall, so it is done far less than Brecht’s more typical heavyweights, like “The Threepenny Opera” and “Mother Courage”. Pacific Resident Theatre company has discovered, though, that what “Happy End” lacks in weight can be compensated for in presentation, and it has splendidly capitalized on that opportunity. What could have been merely a frothy, fluffy dessert becomes delectably rich in PRT’s capable hands.

The music, uniquely Weill, is orchestrated by master pianist, Dean Mora, who not only accompanies but jovially joins in the acting. The cast sings to a turn under the tight musical direction of Carol Mignini. Director Dan Bonnell’s risky use of eccentric, extravagant theatricality, haunting masks, makeup, wigs and costumes (Audrey Eisner) and period lighting (Jeremy Pivnick) pays off big. Bonnell has molded his cast into a tortured comraderie, their distorted looks complementing their agonizing situations in life. Bill Cracker (Timothy V. Murphy), the dangerous bad guy, uses Sister Lillian Holiday (Lesley Fera) to avert The Cop (Travis Terry). He vies for the position of lead felon against The Reverend (Andrew Parks), Baby Face (Tassos Pappas), Sam “Mammy” Wurlitzer (Barry Kramer), The Professor (William Lithgow), The Fly (Martha Hackett) and Dr. Nakamura (Christopher Shaw). This impressive cast, along with Amy Huntington, Tracie Lockwood, Matthew Elkins, Norman Scott, Sarah Brooke and Andrew LaFebre, would make Brecht so very happy, working together as a pure ensemble, putting the common good ahead of their own.

What links “Happy End” to a premiere family musical across town? Not only that both will leave you smiling or a theme of happiness, but also the hardest-working musician in LA, Dean Mora, once again on the keys. “Happily Ever After… After All” is a charming piece about a band of bad guys. All of the requisite perps from the classic fairy tales have decided to take over the happy endings from Mother Goose and make them their own.

Written by Scott Guy, “Happily Ever After…” is a whimsical romp performed with clever staging and pratfalls choreographed and directed by Nick DeGruccio. The Big Bad Wolf (Christina Doren) and Little Big Bad Wolf (Tricia Schaetzle), as true partners in crime, take the biggest bite, chewing up the scenery with gusto. They are supported by the strong performances of Judy Claverie, Andrea Walters, Jeanette Johnson, Jann Cobler, Linda Lawson and the wonderfully dry and pessimistic Pam Schroer.

Proving that charity thrives in our capitalist society, this troupe, known as The Nine O’clock Players, under the auspices of the Assistance League of Southern California, performs on a strictly volunteer basis. They offer high production values in a lovely theater space, with Broadway-ready costumes (Carol Onofrio), makeup (uncredited) and sets (John Hogg and Ron Antone of Scenery West). The ALSC has been based on supportive community principles for the past 75 years. They sponsor free performances during the week, bringing in school groups from the inner city and other audiences of children who might not otherwise see theater. A tradition of women playing all the parts (started during WWII, when men, off to war, were scarce) continues today. These women have worked together for years and clearly all enjoy what they’re doing. No bios in the programs. Why bother? The lobby pictures show how they’ve generally played their stock characters in all the classic fairy tale fare. Prince Charming now, Prince Charming happily ever after.

Happy End
Pacific Resident Theatre
703 Venice Boulevard
Venice, CA
Through April 30, 2005
Thurs. – Sat. at 8pm; Sun. at 3pm
$22.00 – $27.50

Students/Group: 310-301-3971/ext. 5
Info/Tix: 310-822-8392 or

Welcome to Pacific Resident Theatre

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