December 2-30, 2006
"Arguably the most alternative of this year's alternative Christmas shows is the Brown Couch Theatre Company's production of Happy End. A sort of Marxist Guys and Dolls, this 1929 musical by "Dorothy Lane" (i.e., Elisabeth Hauptmann and Bertolt Brecht) and Kurt Weill is famous partly for launching such classic Brecht/Weill songs as "The Bilbao Song" and "Surabaya Johnny" - but mostly for its legendarily unsuccessful world premiere (which included a cast member reading from a communist pamphlet on stage).
Happy End follows the developing alliance - strategic and romantic - between Bill, a gangster, and Lil, a Salvation Army officer. So in what way is it a holiday show? Well, the story culminates on Christmas Eve. And? The Salvation Army is a Christian organization. And? Nothing, really. That's what makes it alternative."
"The Island of Misfit Shows"
By Tony Adler, Special to the Chicago Tribune
Published December 15, 2006
"[I]n the Brown Couch Theatre Company's surprising snappy and well-cast revival of Happy End, the sensational Brecht-Weill score is sung with style and sophistication.
Set in the days leading up to Christmas 1919, the story involves the unexpected romance between Bill Cracker (Damian Vanore), an arrogant gangster who is down on his luck and under the steely thumb of "The Fly" (a scissors-sharp Heather Townsend), and his encounter with the fiercely determined Lt. Lillian Holiday, a k a "Hallelujah Lil" (a terrific turn by the very pretty, silvery-voiced Andrea Prestinario, who does an outstanding job with the very difficult "Surabaya Johnny").
York, who skillfully doubles as director and musical director...has tapped a
slew of young actors with first-rate voices and just the right larger-than-life
personalities. They include Carmen Aiello (full of fire in "Song of the
Big Shot"), Ryan Guhde (excellent in "Mandalay"), the very funny
Jeffrey A. Bouthiette, John Blick, Ryan Patrick Dolan and flapper Dehlia Miller
as the sinners; Kevin Bishop, Susan Veronika Adler, Annika Johansson, Mark Banik
and Kate Leydig as the savers; Erik Koelle as a cop, and Andra Velis Simon as
the hardworking pianist at a tattered upright."
(click to read full review)
- Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times
is a rare treat and difficult show to effectively mount. It takes a finely tuned
ensemble who can play and sing the changing moods and meanings of the work.
This troupe delivers the classic piece deftly. I liked their energy and spirited
understanding of the play. See this worthy show and sample the work of Brecht
& Weill—it’ll leave you with a Happy End."
(click to read full review)
- Tom Williams, ChicagoCritic.com
"The performers are energetic and well-cast. Damian Vanore plays gangster Bill Cracker with the perfect Oreo-nuanced combination of a rough exterior combined with a soft center. Andrea Prestinario’s portrayal of missionary Lillian Holiday finely exposes a resolute woman of disciplined faith with a wild side yearning to be set free.
People either love or hate the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. With atonal intervals, spastic rhythms and odd lyrics, the music can often be inaccessible if not abrasive. At the same time, it can be unpredictably clever, intriguing, and just plain fun. Much of Happy End’s music borders on the inaccessible, though there are some gems, including Surabaya Johnny, splendidly sung by the two leads; a rousing rendition of The Bilbao Song, performed by the gangsters, and the funny The Mandalay Song, sung by the dress-wearing (yet hairy-chested) gangster Sam (Ryan Gudhe). The voices range from average to topnotch, with best prize given to soprano Andrea Prestinario and baritone Jeffrey Bouthiette, playing the dopey gangster Baby Face. Special kudos must be made to the music director Micky York and pianist Andra Velis Simon."
- Scotty Zacher, Gay Chicago Magazine
"As the religious firebrand Hallelujah Lillian, Andrea Prestinario sings gorgeously and forcefully...So what if these songs aren’t seamlessly integrated into the script like Rodgers and Hammerstein? With Andra Velis Simon’s great piano accompaniment and some great harmonizing by the supporting cast, this Weill is never vile...What makes Happy End worth an outing is its unconventional holiday tale, complete with a great score that won’t be piped into shopping malls anytime soon."
- Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
"Vanore is quite good in his role in this heavy-handed melodrama, with great facial expressions as he shifts from gangster to romantic hero, and flashes dimples which brighten the delivery."
- Beverly Friend, Chicago News-Star
"...Happy End is instantly reminiscent of Guys & Dolls but lacks its coherent plotting and catchy songs. But there was that upfront admission of this being a melodrama so we can’t really be surprised by the abrupt shifts in action or immediate character reversals (e,g, gangster moll converts to "Sister Miriam" in an instant). Luckily the cast in this Micky York-directed production is solid enough to make us willing to suspend our disbelief."
- Jenn Goddu, Chicago Free Press
Director and Music
Director: Micky York
Assistant Director: Lydia Milman
Scenic Design: Aimee Whitmore
Lighting Design: Allison Quetel
Costume Design: Erin Fast
Sound Design: Tony Adams
Properties Design: Dan Pellant