Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Kurt Weill's Anti-War Musical: Johnny Johnson

In the 1930s after fleeing the Nazis, with lyricist Paul Green, Weill produced an anti-military satirical musical titled Johnny Johnson.   It was said to have been inspired by Jaroslav Hašek's novel The Good Soldier Švejk.  Weill's version centers around a American Doughboy who stops a war using laughing gas. Naturally, the militarists are unhappy about this and commit the tender-hearted Johnny to an insane asylum. After his release, he finds his sweetheart , Minnie Belle, married to the unxious town tycoon and becomes a toy maker. 

There were no "hits" from this musical, but some of the titles are still evocative:

The Laughing Generals

Song of the Wounded Frenchmen,

Mon Ami, My Friend, and

The Psychiatry Song

Johnny Johnson premiered 19 November 1936 at New York's Group Theater. Lee Strasberg directed with Russel Collins in the title role.  The cast included Luther Adler and Elia Kazan. Below is a photo of the latest staging I could discover.

2014 Presentation by the University of North Carolina's Kenan Theatre Company

The critics loved it.  In a New Yorker review Robert Benchley wrote: "Makes you laugh, cry and boil. The first anti-war play to use laughing gas in its attack on the stupidity of mankind, and to my mind the most effective of all satires in its class."

Listen to the songs at:


  1. This was fascinating. I really enjoyed the bits of the songs I could listen to. Wish there was a dvd of the whole musical.
    David Beer

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  3. Of course, Weil's Dreigroschenoper, while based on John Gay's Beggar's Opera, is a send up of the National Socialist's (Nazi's) rise to power in the Germany of the 1930's!