Revisiting 17: Bills Ballhaus in Bilbao

The title of my 12/11 posting “Er ist der Schönste in Berlin” (‘He is the most beautiful (man) in Berlin’)  is an echo of the line “Es war das Schönste auf der Welt” (‘It was the most beautiful (place) in the world’) in the “Bilbao-Song”, about Bills Ballhaus in Bilbao (‘Bill’s dance hall / beer hall in Bilbao’), from the 1929 Berlin musical comedy Happy End by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

  (#1) You can listen to a Lotte Lenya performance of the song here

Joe, mach die Musik von damals nach
… Bills Ballhaus in Bilbao
War das Schönste auf dem ganzen Kontinent.
… Es war das Schönste
Es war das Schönste
Auf der Welt.

The show is set in a cartoon version of gangland Chicago in the 20s.  The “Bilbao-Song” is a recollection of a lengendary dance-hall / beer-hall from long ago in the wide-open gritty port city of Bilbao, in the Basque country of Spain.

From Wikipedia:

  (#2) Playbill for the 1977 Broadway revival

Happy End is a three-act musical comedy by Kurt Weill, Elisabeth Hauptmann [under the pseudonym Dorothy Lane], and Bertolt Brecht which first opened in Berlin at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm on September 2, 1929. It closed after seven performances. In 1977 it premiered on Broadway, where it ran for 75 performances.

… A gang of criminals is hanging out in Bill’s Beer Hall [in Chicago], plotting their shakedown of a local pharmacist while waiting for their mysterious female boss named The Fly, and her top tough guy Bill Cracker. Bill arrives with a homburg hat – a trophy from Gorilla Baxley, a rival gang leader whom he has just “taken care of”. The gang rejoices – Bill’s Beer Hall will now be the center of crime in Chicago, as great as the original Bill’s Beer Hall in Bilbao (“The Bilbao Song”)…

Four more performances of this often-recorded song:

as performed (in English) by Christopher Lloyd on Broadway, ca. 7/5/77 — yes, the Christopher Lloyd of Taxi, The Addams Family, and the Back to the Future movies — which you can watch here

as performed, very sexily, by Ute Lemper (in German), live in 2012 in Potsdam — which you can watch here

Yves Montand singing “Chanson de Bilbao” in 1961 (in a French translation of the Brecht lyrics), which you can listen to here

a 1961 American hit recording (with new English lyrics by Johnny Mercer, only thematically related to the original German) sung by Andy Williams, which you can listen to here



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