Feature

Enron: The Musical

The playright details the moral bankruptcy of Enron's leaders in a setting whose flashy visual effects will remind the audience of a casino.

Broadhurst Theatre
New York
(212) 239-6200

***

Telling the story of the Enron scandal requires delivering “history lessons“ on such arcane subjects as the energy industry, mark-to-market accounting, and structured debt, said Jesse Oxfeld in The New York Observer. It’s a small “feat of alchemy” that playwright Lucy Prebble has concocted an “utterly thrilling” piece of entertainment from such material. An import from London’s West End, Rupert Goold’s production is “history as avant-garde burlesque,” featuring musical numbers about commodities trading and stock analysts, as well as a conglomeration of visual effects that calls to mind a casino. A “character-driven morality tale” about CEO Kenneth Lay and COO Jeffrey Skilling, Enron variously depicts the enablers of the largest corporate bankruptcy up to that time as ventriloquists’ puppets (the accountants), the Three Blind Mice (the board of directors), and red-eyed velociraptors (the companies holding Enron’s debt).

Prebble dwells less on the details of the scandal itself than on the “moral bankruptcy of the men who ran Enron,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. We watch as Skilling, played by Norbert Leo Butz, “metamorphoses from a nerdy, socially challenged man with a plan into an oil-slick master of the universe,” while Stephen Kunken, as manic CFO Andrew Fastow, brings to mind a “jungle-fevered character out of Apocalypse Now.” All the performances take a back seat, however, to the surrounding sensory overload. After 90 minutes watching flashing TV screens and stock tickers, the audience may wonder if this “exploration of smoke-and-mirror financial practices isn’t much more than smoke and mirrors itself.”

Granted, Goold can be a slick magician, said Brendan Lemon in the Financial Times. In Enron, he deploys his “brilliantly orchestrated bells and whistles” with vaudevillian flair. The resulting spectacle, though, leaves the biggest questions unanswered. Exploring the personal demons driving Skilling, Lay, and Fastow would have been more satisfying than simply harping on their turpitude. Yet even these central characters rarely evolve beyond caricatures. Strip away Goold’s high-tech razzmatazz, and all that remains is Pebble’s “initially intriguing, ultimately banal script.”

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