This London bombshell is both a dazzling piece of entertainment and a gripping cautionary tale.

Jeffrey Skilling - Norbert Leo Butz Kenneth Lay - Gregory Itzin Claudia Roe - Marin Mazzie Andy Fastow - Stephen Kunken

Industry doomsayers were all wet about “Enron.” This London bombshell is both a dazzling piece of entertainment and a gripping cautionary tale about the criminal chicanery that eviscerated the most respected corporate body in America. Still, it cost a bundle (a reputed $5 million) to haul this hi-tech show into town, and everyone’s wondering if starstruck musical junkies will part with their coin for a straight play. What’s clear is that the sensational stage effects deliver the same blood-pumping thrills of a musical, wrapped around a play, by Lucy Prebble, with more brains in its head than any tuner since “Assassins.”

So it cost $5 million. So big deal. The theatrical effects alone — a dizzying funhouse of flashing saber lights, full-face and head masks, snarky puppets, cowboy line dancing, hypnotic split-screen projections, a drill-team chorus of marching financial traders, and a gigantic Big Board that never stops its flashing and whirling — are worth every drachma. If we were still living in the disposable play-money Age of Enron, Rupert Goold (who won both the Olivier and the Evening Standard Award for best director) and his inventive creative team would be pulling in sweet bonuses.

Besides, if this extravaganza ever does go on to become the full-blown musical it stylistically aspires to, show’s sensational star, the indefatigable and unstoppable Norbert Leo Butz (“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Wicked”), has solid chops and copious cred in musical-theater land.

In order to compress, explicate, and make us shudder over the hugely complicated boondoggle that was at the heart of the Houston-based energy company’s fabulous fortunes, Prebble has wisely narrowed her storytelling focus to the personal trajectories of four of the principal scoundrels — Enron’s infamous CEO Jeffrey Skilling (Butz), currently in prison but clamoring to get out; sexy thorn-in-his-side Claudia Roe (Marin Mazzie, reveling in her bitch moment); that Teflon guy Kenneth Lay (Gregory Itzin); and the nerdy accountant who gamed the funny numbers, chief financial officer Andy Fastow (Stephen Kunken). But Skilling is the crazy man with the cockamamie plan and Butz has precisely that edge of comic insanity that gives him entree into the minds and so-called hearts of brilliant egomaniacs like Enron’s golden boy.

The Expressionistic storytelling techniques devised by Prebble and artfully conceptualized by helmer Goold clarify the complexity of all the crooked high finance while holding it up to raucous ridicule. And here’s where the stagecraft comes in.

Those bogus “shadow companies” Fastow dreamed up to hide Enron’s mountainous debt are rendered by masked and fearsomely hungry “raptors” hidden away in the bowels of company headquarters. Lehman Brothers shows up as two greedy guys trussed into a single coat. Arthur Andersen defends his shoddy accounting practices with the help of a ventriloquist’s dummy. And Three Blind Mice in huge head masks let us know that nobody in the Bush government is paying the slightest attention — and is indeed abetting — this corporate chicanery.

Some of this spectacle is genuinely daring. There’s a jarring moment at the top of the show when the entire cast comes out marching to “The Star Spangled Banner.” Had this been the company from the show that originated at London’s Headlong Theater and is still playing on the West End, they might, indeed, have had their English heads handed to them. But this American-cast company raises the stakes for the show and actually helps Prebble to get her larger point across — that this is about more than the implosion of one high-flying company. It’s about the manic greed that fueled the Zeitgeist of the exuberant 90s.

Will the show make it? It all depends on how pissed-off people are at the kind of cynical manipulation that goes on in the Enron-inspired companies still thriving in America’s scandalously unregulated corporate universe. If all the victims of Bernie Madoff’s schemes and all the investors sold a bill of goods by Goldman Sachs would just line up for tickets, “Enron” could run forever on the fumes of their rage.


Broadhurst Theater; 1172 seats; $121.50 top

Production: Enron
A Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Matthew Byam Shaw, ACT Prods., Neal Street, Beverly Bartner & Norman Tulchin, Lee Menzies, Bob Boyett, Scott M. Delman, Infinity Stages, JK Prods., the Araca Group, Jamie deRoy, Mallory Factor, Michael Filerman, Ian Flooks, Ronald Frankel, James Fuld, Jr., Dena Hammerstein, Jam Theatricals, Rodger H. Hess, Sharon Karmazin, Cheryl Lachowicz, Ostar Parnassus Enterprise, Jon B. Platt, Judith Resnick, Daryl Roth, Stein and Gunderson Co., Anita Waxman, the Weinstein Co., Barry & Carole Kaye, Stewart F. Lane & Bonnie Comley, Fran & Barry Weissler and the Shubert Organization presentation of a Headlong Theater, Chichester Festival Theater and Royal Court Theater production of a play in two acts by Lucy Prebble. Directed by Rupert Goold.

Creative: Sets and costumes, Anthony Ward; lighting, Mark Henderson; composition and sound, video and projections, Jon Driscoll; choreography, Scott Ambler; production stage manager, Barclay Stiff. Reviewed April 26, 2010. Opened April 27. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Cast: Jeffrey Skilling - Norbert Leo Butz Kenneth Lay - Gregory Itzin Claudia Roe - Marin Mazzie Andy Fastow - Stephen KunkenWith: Jordan Ballard, Brandon J. Dirden, Rightor Doyle, Anthony Holds, Ty Jones, Ian Kahn, January LaVoy, Tom Nelis, Jeff Skowron, Lusia Strus, Noah Weisberg, Madisyn Shipman, Mary Stewart Sullivan.

More Legit

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

  • All About Eve review

    West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

    To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ [...]

  • Adam Shankman

    Listen: Why Adam Shankman Directs Every Movie Like It's a Musical

    Director Adam Shankman’s latest movie, the Taraji P. Henson comedy “What Men Want,” isn’t a musical. But as one of Hollywood’s top director-choreographers of musicals and musical sequences, he approaches even non-musicals with a sense of tempo. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

    How much can you change “Cinderella” before it is no longer “Cinderella”? In the case of choreography maestro Matthew Bourne — who, it should be said, first unveiled his spin on the classic folk tale some 22 years ago — the music is most certainly “Cinderella” (Prokofiev’s 1945 score, to be exact), but the plot [...]

  • 'Pinter Seven' Review: Martin Freeman Stars

    West End Review: 'Pinter Seven' Starring Martin Freeman

    “Pinter at the Pinter” has been an education — a crash course in Britain’s greatest post-war playwright. Director-producer Jamie Lloyd’s star-studded, six-month sprint through Harold Pinter’s short plays and sketches has been exquisitely curated and consistently revelatory. Not only has Lloyd tuned audiences into the writer’s technique, his unconventional groupings have exposed a load of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content