Kenan Theatre Company presents restored version of ‘Johnny Johnson’ Nov. 20-24

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Kenan Theatre Company presents restored version of ‘Johnny Johnson’ Nov. 20-24


Musical play written by UNC playwright Paul Green and German composer Kurt Weill and performed by UNC students is part of a year-long conversation on the legacy of World War I


(Chapel Hill, N.C.—Oct. 14, 2014) – The world premiere of the restored version of “Johnny Johnson”by Paul Green and Kurt Weill, with text and music not heard since 1937, will be staged at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Nov. 20-24.


Performances will take place in the Kenan Theatre, Center for Dramatic Art, on Nov. 20 at 8 p.m., Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. (with a post-show discussion), Nov. 22 at 8 p.m. (with a pre-show symposium), Nov. 23 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 24 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10; $5 for students. For reservations and information, visit


The musical play is set during World War I, and the cast is composed of UNC students, 18 to 22 years old — the same age of soldiers who sacrificed their lives “over there” 100 years ago.


In the play, lowly tombstone cutter Johnny Johnson is persuaded to enlist in the U.S. Army both by his sweetheart, Minny Belle Tompkins, and by President Woodrow Wilson’s promise of “a war to end all wars.” But Johnny is outraged by the absurdity of trench warfare and, by using laughing gas, fools the Allied generals into calling a cease-fire. Johnny is arrested, shipped back to America and locked up in a lunatic asylum for his “peace monomania.” Released some 20 years later, he makes a living selling handmade toys as war threatens again.


“Johnny Johnson” originated in the summer of 1936, when German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill visited Chapel Hill to team up with prominent North Carolina playwright and Carolina faculty member Paul Green. The play opened on Broadway on Nov. 19, but its acting company made drastic cuts before the premiere. Green and Weill restored those cuts when “Johnny Johnson” was picked up by the Federal Theatre Project, with productions in Boston and Los Angeles in May 1937. However, subsequent performances used the shortened text while the more complete version lay hidden in archives.


Some of this archival material survives in the Southern Historical Collection in UNC’s Wilson Library, some in the National Archives (College Park, Md.), and some in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale University. These newly uncovered sources provided the basis for the critical edition of “Johnny Johnson” prepared by Tim Carter, David G. Frey Distinguished Professor of Music at UNC and recently issued by the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music. The edition won the Claude V. Palisca Award of the American Musicological Society for an outstanding scholarly edition or translation in the field of musicology published during 2012.


The play is directed by Paul and Elizabeth Green Scholar and UNC alumna Serena Ebhardt.


Louise Toppin, professor and chair of the UNC music department, serves as musical director with Evan Feldman, also from the music department, as conductor. Heather Tatreau of the department of exercise and sport science is the choreographer. David Navalinsky, director of undergraduate productions for the department of dramatic art, serves as producer.


“Johnny Johnson” is part of a year-long conversation during 2014-2015 focused on the legacy of World War I. For more on The World War I Centenary Project, visit




Department of dramatic art contact: David Navalinsky, (919) 962-1557,

College of Arts and Sciences contact: Kim Spurr (919) 962-4093,