Happy End (Victorian Opera) at Arts Centre Melbourne - 120 minutes plus 20 minute interval
Updated: Mar 25
Slapstick humour characterises a little staged and decidedly different style of saints and sinners musical.
Victorian Opera’s Happy End is set in America in 1919.
The storyline sees the Salvation Army come face to face with gangsters.
The hoodlums gather in Bill’s Beerhall, named after the man who strikes fear into others’ hearts. Bill Cracker (Adam Murphy) arrives and announces he has killed his archrival Gorilla Baxley.
Photos by Jeff Busby
But in a power play, the Lady in Gray (aka The Fly – Ali McGregor) enters and details the gang’s next robbery, while making it clear that Bill is expendable.
The Salvation Army, on a mission to save the souls of the fallen, marches into the beerhall, Lieutenant Lillian Holiday (Hallelujah Lil) – Lucy Maunder – leading the charge.
As the thugs mock the Salvos, Bill saves Lil from insult and orders the Army to leave. Lil refuses to go and spends time alone with Bill.
Next thing you know, Bill is charged with murder and Lil is expelled from the Salvos for breaking the Army’s rules.
Confrontation looms as the gunslingers and the Army continue to intersect and collide.
Composed in 1929 by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and book by Elisabeth Hauptmann, Happy End is melodramatic and menacing, bawdy and political. It is an extraordinary combination.
With inventive orchestrations, the music is not all melodic. While some of it is, many other songs have a rougher sound.
It is a musical that is anarchic and yet succeeds.
Told in three acts with one interval, to me it really came into its own after the break when there were many laugh aloud moments.
The two leads were sensational – stamping their authority on the production with strong and powerful performances as both vocalists and actors.
With names like The Governor (Kurt Kansley), Sam Wurlitzer (Euan Fistrovic Doidge), The Reverend (Hamish Johnston) The Professor (Bob Marker) and Baby Face (Ras-Samuel Welda’abzgi), it was impossible not to warm to the “gang”.
They excelled in their representation of a rag tag bunch of reprobates, with Kansley – in particular – dominant.
I also appreciated Jennifer Vuletic as Major Stone, who takes decisive action against her best worker when Lil is caught out.
Richard Pyros is a hoot as Brother Jackson, a man prone to more than the occasional blackout. His fainting spells are an art form in and of themselves.
Ali McGregor is hardly backward in coming forward as the self-confident Lady in Gray.
Those familiar with The Threepenny Opera should recognise the work of Weill and Brecht.
For those who are not, give yourselves time to appreciate the tone of a piece that delights in breaking convention.
Happy End is on at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne, until 26th March, 2022.