Richard and I saw *The Lehman Trilogy* on Broadway on Oct 16, 2021.
It’s a play by Stefano Massini about multiple generations of the Lehman family, the financiers. We have a friend who saw it in London in 2018 and other friends who saw it when the same production (with the same actors) played at the Park Avenue Armory in 2019. Everyone said it was one of the greatest plays they’d ever seen so we bought tickets for the Broadway production in March of 2020. Just as Broadway was shutting down. Our tickets were refunded and the producers announced the opening would be delayed for about six weeks, so we bought tickets for late May 2020. Because this whole COVID thing would have blown over by then, right?
Our tickets were refunded a second time. We jumped on that bandwagon a third time and were thrilled that the show actually opened.
The play is directed by Sam Mendes with set design by Es Devlin. The set is a large steel and glass cube, on a turntable, rotating around now and then. The play opens with an anonymous office worker moving around cardboard boxes (banker’s boxes, if you will) in an anonymous New York conference room. A voice on the radio announces that Lehman Brothers is going under. In the next scene another actor comes onstage: he’s Henry Lehman, arriving in New York from Bavaria in 1844. He was followed by his brothers Emanuel and Mayer. They settled in Montgomery, Alabama and opened a dry goods store.
The play follows those three men and their descendants through to the financial collapse of 2008. All of the roles (the Lehmans and many others connected to their story) are played by three actors: Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley have been with the show since the London premiere. Ben Miles was the third actor - - he had a conflict with the new Broadway run and his role was taken over by Adrian Lester.
The play itself was the star of the show. It folloW’s not just the story of the Lehman family and their rise and fall, but it’s a fascinating window into American history - - the Civil War, the stock market crash of 1929, both World Wars, and leading up to our time. These immigrant stories always make me very emotional and Henry Lehman’s journey to the United States and finding his way in Alabama, it was a powerful way to start the show.
All three actors were stellar. I can’t imagine how they’ll be able to give one of them the Tony over the other two, they were all so amazing. I was especially excited to see Beale in a play - - he’s been one of the leading actors on the English stage for years and I loved him in his juicy supporting role on *Penny Dreadful.* He did not disappoint.
I gave a shout-out to director Mendes and set designer Devlin - - they both had a great deal to do with the success of the show. It was a chilling move to have the whole show take place in that anonymous conference room, with the banker’s boxes moving around to represent different environments. They presented the story in a wonderfully straightforward and cogent way.
I did have one major gripe, however: TOO MUCH MUSIC. Much of the play had underscoring by a live pianist, music by Nick Powell. I have no problem with music being used sparingly in a play but there was too much of it in this show. It was a conflict of interest for me, listening to the music or listening to the dialogue. This is rarely a problem in a movie, I think because the sound design is layered in a different way, or because the sense of reality is different than in a play. It seems to me that the director didn’t really trust the audience to be carried by the play, he felt like we needed a score to help us figure out what we’re supposed to feel.
But I think that gripe will fade in time. In a few months I won’t be so bothered by the music - - I’ll have a stronger memory of the music in the play itself.