Happy End


Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht

Music by Kurt Weill

Original German Play by Dorothy Lane

Book and Lyrics adapted by Michael Feingold

Directed by David Fuller

Theater Ten Ten (http://www.theatertenten.com)

1010 Park Avenue (between 84th & 85th Streets); 212-288-3246 ext. 3

Equity showcase (through May 27)

Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh


There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language with which to laud Theater Ten Ten’s production of Brecht and Weill’s Happy End. Spectacular…superb…brilliant…are just a few possibilities. Incredible…amazing…unbelievable…are some others. The first professional production in the city of Happy End in over two decades, Theater Ten Ten has mounted a Broadway-caliber production in a shoestring budget Equity showcase.


The plot of Happy End follows two groups – a band of vagabond villains – and a herd of missionaries for the Salvation Army. The thieves are trying to pull off a great heist, while the missionaries are trying to pull off a great conversion – getting sinners to repent. Good and bad battle it out in the squalid city. Incidentally, Happy End resembles a darker, angrier version of the classic Guys and Dolls.


The book and score are exactly what one would expect from a show with Brecht and Weill involved. The book is melodramatic and biting with a touch of raunchiness. The score is visceral and vital with a touch of sentimentality. Happy End has similar themes and sounds as the more renowned Three Penny Opera; however, it is much more succinct, and therefore more effective in some ways.


Brechtian shows are very hard to pull off well; in fact, in the hands of a bad director they are torture. Thankfully, David Fuller is not only a good director – he is a great director. Sometimes the Brechtian style gets in the way of the piece; the exact opposite happens here. The style is used appropriately and impeccably in this production. Fuller keeps the intensity of the piece going without letting it become overbearing. Furthermore, he has a skilled use of the space, with various levels, and it always feels balanced and never cramped.


The cast is extraordinary. Not only can they all act and sing; but a handful even play instruments!  It is quite a feat when an actor can put in the time commitment to memorize instrumental parts, while acting at the same time, while probably having at least one survival job since the show does not pay. These actors deserve strong kudos:  Elizabeth Fye, Allen Hale, Greg Horton, Megan Loomis, Timothy McDonough, Michael C. O’Day and David Tillistrand.


Additionally, all of the leads are phenomenal. In particular, as Lillian Holiday, Lorinda Lisitza brings the house down with her passionately intense rendition of “Surabaya Johnny.”  In addition, Greg Horton is hilariously diabolical as Dr. Nakamura. Finally, Cristiane Young and Judith Jarosz both had chances to menace as the Fly, leader of the burglars, and Major Stone, leader of the mission.


Technically, the show is very impressive. Giles Hogya’s set develops a multitude of layers and levels. Its dark textures are mirrored in his lighting design. The lighting design is fine-tuned – many tight, discrete, discreet spots are created, and juxtaposed in split-second cues. The ambience created fits the world of the show to a tee. Viviane Galloway’s costumes are mostly dark as well, fitting the period and the world of the show. Finally, musical director Michael Harren keeps the ensemble and instruments together, and in tune, very nicely. The sound is balanced as well, with the orchestra never overpowering the singers with the aid of a few subtle floor mics.


Thus, a talented, enchanting ensemble, some of whom are skilled musicians, smart, stylized direction, and delicious, detailed design all combined to make a worth-Weill production that, in Brecht’s own words, is “fantastic beyond belief.”


Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2


Copyright 2007 Seth Bisen-Hersh

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