The Chicago premiere of Kurt Weill’s
witty anti-war operetta Johnny Johnson!
Conducted by Anthony Barrese *** Directed by George Cederquist
Our 2017 performances will include Kurt Weill’s Johnny Johnson. Weill, like many other European operetta composers of Jewish origins, was forced out of Germany with the arrival of the Third Reich in the early 1930’s. The show, written in 1936, was “pure Weill” with its anti-war theme and music that drew largely upon his unique orchestrations. With a book and lyrics by Paul Green, the show was loosely based on Jaroslav Haseks novel The Good Soldier Svejk, and its pacifist take on the First World War. The name Johnny Johnson was derived from the American First World War casualty lists, as it was the name that appeared most frequently.
Although rarely performed, Johnny Johnson is considered an important piece of the American musical theater and operetta canon. The year 2017 is the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. entry into the First World War. With wars raging in the Middle East and new provocations by the former Cold War power Russia, the show’s anti-war and pacifist leanings are more relevant than ever. Our Chicago performance will be a local and Midwest premiere, and an important reminder and marker of the U.S. involvement in “the war to end all wars.”
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.
sponsored by generous donations and grants by:
Mr. Jerry Critser