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“Johnny Johnson” Is a Harsh Reminder That the “War to End All Wars” Didn’t

JohnnyJohnsonPOSTER-KenanTheatreCompany2014

Those soldiers are gone now, but many of us remember our grandfathers and the proud veterans who paraded on Armistice Days in towns around America, and still the war continues. The “war to end all wars” ended up spawning more wars. But thanks to Serena Ebhardt and Dr. Tim Carter, Johnny comes marching home again for a while, filled with the nostalgia of simpler times, and the harsh reminder of how we got where we are. This Johnny is Johnny Johnson, the eponymous hero of a musical, written by North Carolina’s own Paul Green (1894-1981) in collaboration with German composer Kurt Weill (1900-50) and first produced in 1936 by the socially conscious Group Theatre of New York City.

The name was chosen because it appears most frequently in U.S. casualty rolls of World War I. Tim Carter, David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had wanted to do this show; and Serena Ebhardt, founder of EbzB Productions of Apex, NC, and a theater professional since her Raleigh childhood, was chosen to direct the current joint production presented Nov. 20-24 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art by the Kenan Theatre Company and the university’s Department of Dramatic Art and Department of Music and Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

The story line is based on the Czechoslovakian novel The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923). Begun after the war and incomplete when the novelist died in 1923, this satirical anti-war novel concerns an apparently avid soldier whose every action demonstrates the futility of war itself.

Director Serena Ebhardt has assembled a cast of 18 to perform 68 roles (she tells us the show has been cut down quite bit, also!); but all of Kurt Weill’s original 30 songs are there.

Dr. Carter tells us the show has been changed several times over the years; but through his research and efforts, this production constitutes the closest version to the original available, and can be regarded as a world premiere.

Johnny Johnson is rarely performed, and thus this production is a rare opportunity for theatergoers. This production is a part of the campus-wide A Year-Long Conversation: World War I — The Legacy,” sponsored by the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities; and it is funded in part by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, Inc. of New York City and the Paul Green Foundation of Chapel Hill.

Since we are at the start of four years of commemorating World War I (The Great War), and because, especially, this war which was promoted as the “the war to end all wars” — but certainly did not — this show is an excellent remembrance of the horror our leaders have been bringing upon us for the past hundred years.

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 5th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh preview by the BWW News Desk: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/UNC-Presents-World-Premiere-of-New-JOHNNY-JOHNSON-Musical-1120-24-20141005; and Jan. 8th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by the Karishma Patel: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2014/01/tim-carter-feature-0109.

The Kenan Theatre Company, the UNC Departments of Dramatic Art and Music, and the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities present JOHNNY JOHNSON at 8 p.m. Nov. 20-22, 2 p.m. Nov. 23, and 5 p.m. Nov. 24 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $10 ($5 students with ID).

BOX OFFICE: http://drama.unc.edu/johnnyjohnson/.

SHOW: http://drama.unc.edu/johnnyjohnson/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/278207785711227/.

PRESENTERS:

Kenan Theatre Company: http://drama.unc.edu/ktc/ and https://www.facebook.com/KenanTheatreCompany.

UNC Department of Dramatic Art: http://drama.unc.edu/.

UNC Department of Music: http://music.unc.edu/.

UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities: http://iah.unc.edu/.

CAST BLOG: http://drama.unc.edu/2014/10/29/johnny-johnson-cast-blog/.

VENUE: http://playmakersrep.org/aboutus/kenan.

DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://playmakersrep.org/visitorinfo.

NOTE: There will be a Johnny Johnson Symposium from 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22nd, at the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Hyde Hall.

OTHER LINKS:

Johnny Johnson (1936 Broadway musical) http://www.kwf.org/kurt-weill/weill-works/28-weill-works/weill-works/160-j6main (Kurt Weill Foundation for Music), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=4921 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Johnson_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Kurt Weill (German composer, 1900-50) http://www.kwf.org/ (Kurt Weill Foundation for Music), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=7112 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_Weill (Wikipedia).

Paul Green (Lillington, NC-born dramatist and lyricist, 1894-1981) http://www.paulgreen.org/ (official website), http://www.paulgreen.org/foundation.html (Paul Green Foundation), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8043 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Green_%28playwright%29 (Wikipedia).

Serena Ebhardt (director) http://www.ebzb.org/serena/ (EbzB Productions bio).

A Year-Long Conversation: World War I — The Legacy: http://iah.unc.edu/news/newsarchive/2013/WWI (UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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