As Broadway emerges from the pandemic, ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ makes a big debut.
In September 2008, when financial behemoth Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, President George W. Bush responded with a nervous laugh. It might have been referred to as “a big f*****g deal” by someone from another era. The Lehman Trilogy, which debuted Thursday at New York’s Nederlander Theatre, demonstrates why the latter approach is largely regarded as being on the right side of history. It’s an engaging, welcome return to Broadway after the pandemic, and it’s a significant deal, much like its original material.
The Lehman Trilogy, written by Stefano Massini and adapted by Ben Power, had successful runs in London and New York’s Park Avenue Armory, and depicts the narrative of the family that built the namesake institution, which came to be one of the financial industry’s key players. At its peak, Lehman Brothers appeared to be too big to collapse, but it did, contributing significantly to the commencement of the Great Recession.
The cast size of this epic play, which begins in 1844 and finishes in 2008, is one of its distinguishing features: there are only three speaking parts. The Lehman brothers, their kids and grandsons, and scores of other characters who cross race, gender, and age barriers are played by Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley, and Adrian Lester.
Even though the narrative of Lehman Brothers is unfamiliar, it is clear from the start that the company will fail. The big question is: how did all these smart people mess this up? This is especially perplexing given the family’s perseverance in the face of hardship, first with the Civil War, which nearly destroyed their cotton industry, and later with Black Thursday and the 1929 Stock Market Crash.
The Lehman Trilogy is a play about a business’s rise and fall, as well as a family’s intimately interwoven fortunes. The enterprise evolves from a little shop in Montgomery, Alabama, to a large cotton merchant, and then to a bank. We observe how the three brothers each contribute to the business’s success and expansion, as well as how it is passed down to their sons and grandkids, at every step of the way.
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