1996 Studio Cast

Johnny Johnson [1996 Studio Cast]

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Music historians tend to divide the works of composer Kurt Weill into his early Berlin period, which was more political and avant-garde, and his later Broadway period, which was largely apolitical and more conventional. The relatively obscure musical Johnny Johnson, Weill's first show written for Broadway to be produced there in 1936, is something of a missing link between the two periods. It was commissioned by the left-leaning Group Theatre, which had Weill score the lyrics of playwright Paul Green, who created a satiric anti-war drama about the hapless title character, who is swept into the insanities of World War I. Although very much of a piece with the isolationist sentiment of the interwar period, it was not a success in its original production, running a mere 68 performances, and not surprisingly was not revived thereafter. But 20 years later, MGM Records released a studio cast recording, and 40 years after that comes this, only the second recording of the score, undertaken by the Otaré Pit Band conducted by Joel Cohen, and featuring Donald Wilkinson in the title role, with Ellen Santaniello playing Minny Belle, his fiancé, who convinces him to enlist. Considerably longer than the MGM LP at 74 & ½ minutes, the disc includes several songs that were cut from the score, notably Santaniello and Wilkinson's "Farewell, Goodbye" and "The West-Pointer Song." It is not only the political content, acerbically expressed, that recalls Weill's German works with Bertolt Brecht, such as The Threepenny Opera. The music also has the flavor of the German period, even if, for instance in "Oh the Rio Grande -- Cowboy Song," the subject matter ranges far afield. This may be a show in which Paul Cummings, as the British Commander-in-Chief, proclaims "the end of Germany" in "The Allied High Command," but the German expatriate composer who provided the music continues to evoke his Weimer roots in the score, which adds yet another level of irony.