Guts, Glory, and Pain – Times Square Chronicles
Disturbingly, the first scene is the Lehman Brothers gutted by the US Treasury and the Fed in 2008. In the next scene, Henry Lehman arrives at Ellis Island from Rimpar, Germany, and sets his new course in America. This is the start of the exquisite piece, The Lehman Trilogy at the Nederlander Theater opened on October 14. Without Ben Miles, the original Emanuel Lehman when the show was performed at the Armory, the show still thrives. In three parts, we embarked on a journey through the history of the Lehman family. Henry Lehman being the first to come to America, then Emmanuel and later Mayer. Not without argument, the three are busy selling fabrics and costumes in Alabama. True to their German pasts and Jewish roots, the three are able to pull through this through insight and hard work.
In a show that will undoubtedly win many Tony Awards, The Lehman Trilogy excels in every way; Es Devlin’s stage design is a glass cube and inside the cube all the action takes place. Sam Mendes gets the three plus hours moving with the ease of watching someone’s life unfold before your eyes in easy steps for everyone to enjoy. Mendes is adept at getting the three main characters to play multiple roles with such ease and verve. Spectacular are Adam Godley and Simon Russell Beale. Even Adrian Lester is believable in playing a white Emanuel Lehman.
As the story unfolds we see the inner workings of a family business… part one is just the three brothers starting out, as they grow up they face more challenges, more decisions. The steady growth makes the trio a growing force in the South just to cope with civil war. Already in the face of the plantations that have burned down, nothing prevents the Lehmans not only from surviving, but from prospering in business. And at the end of the first act, the Lehmans opened an office at 119 Liberty Street without “The Head”, Henry Lehman as Yellow Fever won.
In act two we now have the sons entering the business. The family moved away from textiles, once growing and selling cotton, to lend as a bank. Under the tutelage of Phillip, son of Emanuel (Simon Russel Beale), Lehman Brothers will finance railways, oil companies and a plethora of new and future industries. The bank was ripe to grow beyond the dreams of young calculating bankers. For Phillip, it’s strategy and not luck. At seventy, however, Phillip loses his edge and must now rely on his son, Bobby, to carry on the tradition. Both Hotchkiss and Yale were educated, Bobby doesn’t have the passion his father or grandfather had for finance; he likes the things that money brings, however. As an avid art and equestrian collector, Bobby must be successful in order to continue his lifestyle.
Over time Stefano Massini does an incredible job highlighting the brothers and how they change over time… Myer hates living in New York, he’s a simple man like his wife. We laugh at him, his shoes, his style as he says little but always observant. Like Emanuel, he would succumb to Phillip’s wishes even if that meant almost closing his doors in the stock market crash of 1929. Lehman survived the crash with government help, only to fail when in 2008 the government failed to come to him. help and let the bank fail.
In act three, (the most technologically frantic act in the game), we have the crash itself. Brilliantly done, we see how the effects hit places like Nebraska and how a kid from there would come to New York City and be recognized as one of the greatest traders Wall Street has ever known. Lewis Glucksman, a brash trader would persuade Bobby Lehman to open a trading office on Water St, keeping “White Shoe” investment banking on Williams Street and separate. As things move faster and faster, the video design of Luke Halls and the sound design of Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey separate this show from very good to excellent. Audiences at this point in the play are made to directly feel the tension, pressure, and rapid action that Wall Street has become. Even as Bobby ages, the money, the fame is too hard to let go.
Over time, Massini shows us how times have changed, once conservative Jews are now Reform Jews; religion is just not as important as it was with the original three brothers. Death no longer justifies the full grievance period. Three minutes is all Phillip got when he came by and Bobby none. No more Lehmans. Pete Peterson has taken over the investment bank and Lewis Glucksman wants him out. By succeeding in doing so in 1983, Lehman Brothers succeeded for another ten months before being sold. This is where the room was muddled and unclear to the audience; this part of the coin wouldn’t resonate with anyone who doesn’t know the history of the bank.
As we travel through time, Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are perfect for different time periods. Mark Lindsay makes us feel like we are in the room, or at least in his day.
Massini introduces us to a family that is going through all its trials and tribulations, showing that having a lot of money does not take away the angst that comes with success. What was once a passion of its founders, dissipates as generations move up the ranks.
The speed, the writing, the acting and everything that goes into this show is top notch and shouldn’t be missed. Shows this good don’t happen very often, but when they do, it’s very satisfying.
The Lehman Trilogy: Nederlander Theater, 208 West 41st Street until January 2, 2022