Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Happy End - May 14, 2007

Happy End set in 1919 Chicago is the story of a gangster (Bill Cracker, played by Joey Piscopo) and Salvation Army Lieutenant (Lillian Holiday, played by Lorinda Lisitza) who meet and fall in love at Christmas in the midst of Bill's gang's biggest heist.

I think Brecht and Weill are fun fun fun. I wish I could quote Michael Feingold's adaptation and say that Theater Ten Ten's production of Happy End was "fantastic beyond belief" but that would be wrong. It's a decent production, but smacks heavily of community theater despite it being the longest continuously operating Equity Theater Company in New York. The theater is located in a basement auditorium with acoustics that vibrate and echo in a most unpleasant manner particularly when the brass instruments are blowing and operatic soprano of Lorinda Lisitza is trilling like Jeanette MacDonald. Lyrics are often lost to the din. This is unfortunate as the lyrics are more than half the fun of a Brecht Weill collaboration.

This is not to say the production is without merit. I applaud director David Fuller's attempt to incorporate the cavernous space, but due to the fact that the audience is not raked it might have served the show better to go old-school traditional and keep the actors on the proscenium stage where we could all see them rather than have them staged on the floor for large portions of the show effectively dismissing those of us not in the front 2-3 rows. I am also stymied as to why there was a need for two intermissions for a show with no major set changes and a running time of just over two hours.

Some of the musical productions work, some do not. "The Bilbao-Song" was amusing and well done, "The Sailor's Tango" and "Surabaya-Jonny" were half trilling vibrato and for the most part unintelligible. I would have thought this was just my old ears giving way until I heard the people behind me sighing and shuffling: this happened every time Miss Lisitza hit the high notes. Honestly, we want to hear the words - do your vocalizing at before the show.

"The Song of the Big Shot" was fun and charming. Greg Horton (Dr. Nakamura "The General") hit just the right mark of being 'stage sinister'. Timothy McDonough ("Baby Face") and Dave Tillistrand (Sam "Mammy" Wurlitzer) were charming stand-outs in the "gang". I was lucky to hit a performance where Sandy York was playing Major Stone - she was in charge without being strident and her voice was perfect (yes, I could hear every lyric thank you). This brings me to the reason I stayed through the two intermissions: Joey Piscopo.

I saw Joey Piscopo's solo show Joe Piscopo's Son in this same space. (Which I must stress works so much better for straight plays than for musicals.) Seeing him play gangster Bill Cracker with cool disdain and boredom via Sinatra was a treat. One of the high points of the show is a short film depicting "The Heist" - it is black & white (sepia) and a perfect recreation of a 1919 silent film which is integrated into the live action to superb results. Mr. Piscopo directed the film. As Bill Cracker runs through the Salvation Army service he calls out "don't mind me I'm just passin' tru" and one hopes this is the case. He deserves a better venue.

HAPPY END, A Melodrama With Songs
Theater Ten Ten
1010 Park Ave
between 84th and 85th Streets
running time: 2 hrs 10 mins (including 2 intermissions)
Through May 27, 2007

1 comment:

Junk Thief said...

ACT did a great production, the first west coast mounting of Happy End in over 25 years, last summer. Overall, it was superb. But I tend to agree that "Surabaya Johnny" is often "oversung." Lenya as a vocalist was limited but brought so much more to the song than many who have followed by using vocal gymnastics.