happy end with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht, music by Kurt Weill, book and lyrics adapted by Michael Feingold from the original German play by Dorothy Lane, directed by Tadeusz Bradecki, with Blythe Wilson, Benedict Campbell and Jay Turvey. Presented by the Shaw Festival at the Royal George Theatre. Runs in rep to October 31. $47-$77. 1-800-657-1106. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
A musical in neither the Rodgers & Hammerstein nor Lloyd Webber mould, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht 's Happy End delivers a fascinating mix of styles and philosophies, all underscored by Weill's haunting, exotic tunes. Set in Chicago in 1919, the show's basic plot - head gangster ( Benedict Campbell ) uses cute Salvation Army lieutenant ( Blythe Wilson ) to hide out from the heat - reads like the bastard offspring of Guys And Dolls and Major Barbara.
Add a Peter Lorre-style Asian stereotype ( Jay Turvey ), a sinister mob boss played in male drag ( Glynis Ranney , cast chillingly against type) and an ensemble who, in typical Brechtian fashion, make us aware we're watching a show and you've got a snappy artifact that defies most theatrical expectations.
What's remarkable about this production, helmed by Shaw vet Tadeusz Bradecki , is how well the elements are integrated.
The show is anything but naturalistic. The lyrics frequently allude to the Punjab and Burma, the gangsters sport whiteface makeup and the lighting evokes turn-of-the-century music halls. Yet the story has a crude, melodramatic force, and the cynical look at capitalism and religion never becomes preachy.
Bradecki and musical director Paul Sportelli present a convincing production, with fine lead performances by Campbell and Wilson and charming turns by Mike Nadajewski as a Salvation Army worker prone to fainting and Neil Barclay , Guy Bannerman , Peter Millard and Jeff Lillico as a rogue's gallery of thugs.