Johnny Johnson (musical)

Johnny Johnson is a musical with a book and lyrics by Paul Green and music by Kurt Weill.

Johnny Johnson
1956 studio recording
MusicKurt Weill
LyricsPaul Green
BookPaul Green
BasisJaroslav Hašek's novel
The Good Soldier Švejk
Productions1936 Broadway
1956 Off-Broadway
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.

Its title was inspired by the fact the name appeared on United States casualty rolls more often than any other.[1]

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.[2][3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

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 conducted the 1956 record album which had none of the cast from the Stella Adler production.[6]

After 10 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.[7]

The play was staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company on 6–15 August 1986 at the Almeida Theatre, London directed by Paul Marcus. The cast was Clive Mantle, Tina Marian, Michael McNally, Keith Osborn, Juliet Stevenson, Graham Turner and Andrew Yeats.[8]

In 2009, a concert-staging was mounted in London by the Discovering Lost Musicals Charitable Trust, with Max Gold in the title role.[9]

The ReGroup Theatre Company staged two sold-out staged readings that were directed by Estelle Parsons at the 47th St Theatre, in New York on December 12, 2011.[10] Johnny was played by Pete McElligott, and his performances was named one of the 10 memorable performances of 2011 by Backstage [11]


A November 1956 studio recording ("MGM Records" MGM E 3447, later released on Heliodor, Polydor, and online at 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 November 1996 recording (Erato 0630-17870-2) offers Donald Wilkinson as Johnny, Ellen Santaniello as Minny Belle, and Paul Guttry as the Mad Psychiatrist; Joel Cohen conducts.

1971 revival song list


  1. "Weill's Johnny Johnson Gets Another Premiere" by Paul Moor, The New York Times (January 17, 1996)
  2. Speak Low (when you speak of love): The Letters of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya
  3. A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green, 1916–1981, p. 258
  4. Johnny Johnson at Guide to Musical Theatre (synopsis, roles, scenes, musical numbers)
  5. Johnny Johnson at the Internet Broadway Database (1936/37)
  6. Johnny Johnson at the Internet Off-Broadway Database
  7. Johnny Johnson at the Internet Broadway Database (1971)
  8. "Johnny Johnson". Theatricalia. Retrieved 2014-09-14.
  9. Johnny Johnson review by John Thaxter, The Stage (June 15, 2009)
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