Johnny Johnson (musical)
1956 studio recording
|Basis||Jaroslav Hašek's novel
The Good Soldier Švejk
1971 Broadway revival
2009 London concert staging
Based on Jaroslav Hašek's satiric novel The Good Soldier Švejk, the musical focuses on a naive and idealistic young man who, despite his pacifist views, leaves his sweetheart Minny Belle Tompkins to fight in Europe in World War I. He first tries to stop the war after meeting a young German sniper of the same name, who believes that the soldiers must unite. However, the commanders of the allied forces intend to use the discontent with the war among the German soldiers as a perfect time to advance in the war. Johnny then manages to bring the skirmish to a temporary halt by incapacitating a meeting of the generals with laughing gas, but once they recover they promptly reinstate the war, resulting in hundreds of thousands of fatalities. Meanwhile Johnny finds himself committed to an asylum for ten years. He returns home to discover Minny Belle has married a capitalist, and he settles down as a toymaker who will create anything except tin soldiers, his personal gesture of peace in an increasingly warlike society.
The play was written and composed by Green and Weill during the summer of 1936 in a rented old house located in Nichols, Connecticut near the summer rehearsal headquarters of the Group Theatre at Pine Brook Country Club.
Productions and background
Weill was asked to develop the project by the socially-conscious Group Theatre, but much of his music was scrapped when original director Harold Clurman was replaced by Lee Strasberg, who opted to emphasize text over music. The Broadway production opened on November 19, 1936 at the 44th Street Theatre, where it ran for 68 performances. The cast included Russell Collins as Johnny and Phoebe Brand as Minny Belle, with Luther Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Lee J. Cobb, Curt Conway, John Garfield, Elia Kazan, Robert Lewis, and Sandy Meisner in supporting roles.
A 1956 production was presented Off-Broadway at the Little Carnegie Playhouse at Carnegie Hall. It was directed by Stella Adler and starred among others James Broderick as Johnny Johnson and Gene Saks as the Mad Psychiatrist. It ran from October 21, 1956 through October 28. Samuel Matlowsky was the Musical Director and also conducted the 1956 record album which had none of the cast from the Stella Adler production.
After ten previews, a revival directed by José Quintero and choreographed by Bertram Ross opened on April 11, 1971 at the Edison Theatre, where it closed after one performance. The cast included Ralph Williams as Johnny and Alice Cannon as Minny Belle.
The ReGroup Theatre Company staged 2 sold-out staged readings that were directed by Estelle Parsons at the 47th St Theatre, in New York on Dec 12, 2011. Johnny was played by Pete McElligott, and his performances was named one of the 10 memorable performances of 2011 by Backstage 
A November 1956 studio recording ("MGM Records" MGM E 3447, later released on Heliodor, Polydor, and online at ArkivMusik.com) has Burgess Meredith as Johnny, Evelyn Lear as Minny Belle, and Hiram Sherman as the Mad Psychiatrist; smaller roles are taken by Jane Connell, Lotte Lenya, and Thomas Stewart, and the conductor is Samuel Matlowsky. A 1996 Erato release offers Donald Wilkinson as Johnny, Ellen Santaniello as Minny Belle, and Paul Guttry as the Mad Psychiatrist; Joel Cohen conducts.
1971 revival song list
- "Weill's Johnny Johnson Gets Another Premiere" by Paul Moor, The New York Times (January 17, 1996)
- Speak Low (when you speak of love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya
- A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916–1981, p. 258
- Johnny Johnson at Guide to Musical Theatre (synopsis, roles, scenes, musical numbers)
- Johnny Johnson at the Internet Broadway Database (1936/37)
- Johnny Johnson at the Internet off-Broadway Database
- Johnny Johnson at the Internet Broadway Database (1971)
- Johnny Johnson review by John Thaxter, The Stage (June 15, 2009)