April 23, 2010 / 3:57 PM / 10 years ago

Enron on Broadway: tale of risk is itself risky

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A play opening on Broadway next week examines fraud and deception on Wall Street, exotic trading instruments that led to financial ruin, and the consequences of extreme risk combined with insatiable greed.

Dancers depicting financial analysts perform during a dress rehearsal of the play "Enron" in New York April 7, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The Enron scandal, upon which the show is based, occurred nine years ago. But the sins — such as discarding trusted trading principles to reap profits that are too good to be true — continue to be committed today.

“Yes, it’s weird, it’s crazy,” said British playwright Lucy Prebble, 29, in an interview. While Prebble said she wished the economic collapse hadn’t occurred, she noted that the timing of it was “crudely beneficial for us.”

“Enron,” which opens Tuesday, recalls the 2001 implosion of the energy giant, which was one of the biggest corporate frauds in history. The show weaves trading room song-and-dance sequences with bawdy backroom politics, burning ambitions and the downfall of Enron’s former leaders.

Despite its unusual subject matter, it had an award-winning run in London and some New York theater observers think it could be a Broadway hit.

Like the company, the show is taking big risks. The costly production about accounting has no big-name stars. An ensemble of 22 actors, including Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, perform a cappella songs and dance sequences set to house music. A montage of videos and news clips about the scandal are also featured.

The play brings to the stage Enron’s fallen figures including CEO Kenneth Lay, President Jeffrey Skilling and CFO Andrew Fastow and mentions politicians who supported deregulation on Wall Street.

“They are very extreme characters ... as people drawn to power quite often are,” Prebble said.

It also explains to mainstream audiences the mechanics of the stock market and financial terms like credit derivatives while detailing the roles of others in the scandal such as credit rating agencies, lawyers, accountants and collapsed firms Arthur Andersen and Lehman Brothers.

“It wasn’t born out of a spirit of attack,” said Prebble, who wrote the play after becoming fascinated with the scandal in 2001. “It would be hypocritical to have a lazy, dishonest, purely liberal perspective, which kind of says everyone who makes money is bad. ... You’ve got to go inside the bubble.”

Time magazine said it spent $4 million transferring the production from London. Broadway observers wonder if in today’s climate — as Washington weighs sweeping financial regulation — audiences want to see corporate culture on stage.

Prebble is optimistic.

“It’s not specific to America at all, but because it is an American story I feel like sitting in front of an American audience will be fascinating,” she said. “It’s celebratory of American capitalism, but it’s also questioning that.”

Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Stacey Joyce

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