Happy End

Are Americans really just a bunch of gangsters and puritans? This uneven mobster musical definitely wants us to consider the possibility. Happy End follows the clichéd good-girl/bad-boy romance of Salvation Army preacher Lillian Holiday and notorious gangster Bill Cracker. It’s easy to see why creators Bertolt Brecht and Elisabeth Hauptmann disowned Happy End — slapped together in an effort to capitalize on the success of ThreePenny Opera, it steals liberally from George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara and the B-grade American gangster pictures that fascinated Brecht. More importantly, the play lacks the type of revolutionary intelligence that’s coiled behind Brecht’s best work. Happy End feels like a parade of insipid American archetypes — the hypocritical religious zealot, the gun-toting mol with a heart of gold, the vaguely mystical Asian mobster — according to Brechtian theory these stock characters are supposed to alienate us from traditionally effective modes of theatrical presentation and make us ponder more important social and political questions. But lacking any engaging intellectual concepts, we are just left with an unimaginative narrative and the type of hooting and hoofing you’d expect from a musical like Guys and Dolls. Every element of this high-gloss production is very competent. However, the cast, designers, and director seem to avoid any real sense of danger and debauchery, and it’s a shame because that’s what truly brings the gangsters and puritans together.

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