The production had a troubled history, including a much-delayed opening.
Early Annoucements and Changes
On December 10, 1976, the "Broadway" column of the New York Times reported that a production of Brecht and Weill's Happy End would open on Broadway in April 1977. It would be produced by Michael Harvey (who had produced several Broadway and Off-Broadway shows).
The director would be Michael Posnick, who had directed the American premiere at Yale Rep in 1972 and a revival of that production at Yale Rep in 1975. Shirley Knight and Tony Lo Bianco would star. There would be a pre-Broadway run at the nonprofit Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo, New York, from January 21 to February 18. Harvey was hoping to book the production in two other cities before bringing it to Broadway.
Although the announced opening in Buffalo was only six weeks away, it never happened. (The theatre substituted a production of Athol Fugard's Sizwe Banzi Is Dead.)
Instead, Harvey joined forces with New York's Chelsea Theatre Center, which several years before had produced Candide, which moved to Broadway for a good run.
Previews started on March 8 at Chelsea's theatre at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), with Knight but without Lo Bianco. Instead, Christopher Lloyd (a Chelsea vet) took the leading male role of Bill Cracker.
The production's originally announced closing date was April 3. This four-week run was in line with the runs of other Chelsea productions that season. Harvey was surely hoping to move the production to Broadway after the short Chelsea run.
At that time, most Chelsea productions played at BAM for two weeks, then transferred to Theatre Four in Manhattan for another two weeks. Happy End, however, never transferred to Theatre Four. (Some online sources incorrectly list Theatre Four as the production's venue.)
Delays and More Changes
When the scheduled closing date of April 3 came, the production had not opened to the critics. The production shut down for a week, although theatre listings in some local newspapers and magazines made it appear as if performances were going on. The show went back into rehearsal. Chelsea's artistic director, Robert Kalfin, replaced Posnick as director, and Meryl Streep replaced Shirley Knight as Lieutenant Lillian Holliday.
Streep was then appearing at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre in an acclaimed production of The Cherry Orchard, which was to close on April 10. Performances of Happy End resumed, with Streep, on April 12.
In an interview at the time, Streep said she had three afternoons of rehearsal before her first performance. The ease with which she took over may be due to the fact that she had been in the cast of the 1975 Yale Rep revival, while she was a graduate student at Yale. Some sources say that she was the understudy for the role of Lillian Holiday in the Yale revival, but we have not been able to confirm that.
As if all of this turmoil was not enough, during the performance on Thursay, April 21, Christopher Lloyd severely injured two ligaments in his right leg. In great pain, he managed to complete the performance. His understudy, Bob Gunton, took over the next day and was reviewed by the critics.
The Chelsea Opening
The production's "press date" ended up being April 27. ("Press date" was the term used by Chelsea instead of opening date. It meant the date on which reviews would appear rather than the official opening performance.) This would seem to suggest an opening date of April 26, but news reports at the time gave the opening date as Monday, April 25, despite the fact that the production played a Tuesday-through-Sunday schedule and gave no performance on that date.
A Fast Move
The production closed at BAM on April 30. It re-opened, with no previews, at Broadway's Martin Beck Theatre on May 7. Bob Gunton was Bill Cracker. The fast move (not announced before the Chelsea opening) suggests that Harvey had already reserved the theatre on a tentative basis.
One Final Twist
On Sunday, May 8, Gunton became ill with the measles. There was no performance scheduled that day. On Monday, Lloyd returned to the production, playing the role on crutches. At the end of the run, he was still playing it on crutches. This was perhaps more because he liked it and felt it suited the character than because it was necesssary. In a profile on him in the New York Times, he said, "The funny thing is, I've come to feel the injury suits him. ... [T]he injury gives him a touch of vulnerability that has validity."