Happy End

Gangster movie meets musical theater in the back room at Original Joe's

The back room at Original Joe's provides a suitably speak-easy setting for Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's Happy End. Set in Chicago circa 1939, this gangster movie-style musical theater piece revolves around an unlikely romance between tough guy Bill Cracker and Lt. Lillian Holiday, a nice young lady from the Salvation Army determined to save the city's hoodlum soul. Michael Feingold's spunky translation fits seamlessly with Weill's sinewy melodies -- some of which, like "The Bilbao Song" and "Surabaya Johnny," have become standards of the repertoire. Erin Merritt's lolloping production lacks focus and rhythm in places, with peripheral conversations and movement occasionally distracting us from the main action. Yet the show is frequently engaging: Woman's Will's all-female cast members transform themselves with equal aplomb into gun-toting Mafiosi and devout God Squadders. The show also features a fun interactive sermon scene and some thrilling interpretations of Weill's songs; I've heard Bebe Neuwirth deliver the famous lyric "Take that damn pipe out of your mouth, you rat!" But as the conflicted Lt. Holiday, Lisa Jenai Hernandez does it better.

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