Johnny Johnson

A Chicago Premiere.

An operetta in English in 2 acts.

Music by Kurt Weill.

Book & lyrics by Paul Green.

Edited by Gerald Frantzen.

Directed by George Cederquist.

Conducted by Anthony Barrese.

Produced by Chicago Folks Operetta.

At Stage 773, Chicago.

Mesmerizingly haunting anti-war musical, (an operetta really) a forgotten Kurt Weill masterpiece!

The creatives at Chicago Folks Operetta have done it again with Kurt Weill’s Johny Johnson. After seeing their The Circus Princess, The Land of Smiles, Ball at the Savoy, The Cousin From Nowhere, Madame Pompador and The Girl on the Train, I know that Chicago Folks Operetta are a Chicago creative treasure. They specialize in mounting (and translating) European operettas for contemporary audiences. Their stage craft is impecable. They have now mounted Kurt Weill’s American anti-war operetta composed in America with  librettist Paul Green written for the left-wing Group Theatre in NYC in 1936.  Johnny Johnson is based on the novel The Good Soldier Schwejk by Jaroslav Hasek.

Johnny Johnson is an operetta set in the USA and France in 1917 as America moves from pacefist to combatant in The Great. War.  Plot Summary:

“It is World War I. The United States of America, having pledged to remain neutral, is pulled into the fight in order to make the world safe for democracy “over there.” Lowly American tombstone cutter Johnny Johnson, has been persuaded to enlist in the U.S. army both by his sweetheart, Minny Belle Tompkins, and by President Woodrow Wilson’s promise of “a war to end all wars.” But confronted by the horrors of the trenches in France, he is outraged at the absurdity of it all, and by dint of laughing-gas, he fools the Allied generals into calling a cease-fire. Johnny is arrested, shipped back to America, and locked up in a lunatic asylum for his “peace monomania.” Released some twenty years later, he makes a living selling handmade toys as the trumpets of war once more sound in the distance.” (source: press notes).

The operetta is filled with anti-war themes, social satire and dark humor. It is considered an important piece of musical theatre/operatta cannon. The Chicago Folks Pperetta’s production features a 15-piece orchestra, professional classical-trained singers and a terrific lead performance of Johnny Johnson played with zest and empathy by Gabriel di Gennaro.

Kurt Weill’s score has odes to his German operetta roots with a flavor of American motiffs such as marches, anthems and military themes. He even has a ‘Cowboy song’! We hear sweet ballads, cute toe-tapping melodies, darkly moody underscoring with mocking military drum rolls and military excess. Weill’s score is a masterpiece of anti-war agri-prop.

We see Johnny Johnson in France where he is popular with the troops as he tries invain to stop the killing.  He even tries to get help from a captured German 16-year old sniper to spread the work that all soldiers fighting are really the same. His attempts fall on deaf ears.

We are treated with a sprawling 2 hour + operetta that transfigures us into Weill’s world that mezmerorizes and enchants us throughout. The music, the singing, and the dedicated performances are first class amd memorable. This is an important show for those interested in Kurt Weill and the anti-war musicals of the 1930’s.  It will grab you, keep you engaged and leave you moved and fullfilled as you realize that you just witnessed a major work of art on stage. It is not often that a show does  that! Don’t miss Johnny Johnson, it is one of the finest musicals (operettas)in years. Kudos to Chicago Folks Operetta for chanpioning this piece. The Lyric Opera of Chicago needs to aid this group’s worthy mission.

Highly Recommended.

Tom Williams.

At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call (773) 327-5252, tickets $40, $35 for seniors, $30 for students, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm,  Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission.