Money Talks The Musical is an amusing, sometimes rambling performance about, well, money. We initially meet the cast of four as currency. Ben Franklin (the narrator), Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln all appear holding oversized bills equipped with a hole for their faces. They commence with a musical lament about their contributions to the nation and that they are repaid by being replicated as “dirty, filthy, vulgar legal tender.” The song goes on to bemoan our willingness to lie, cheat, steal and engage in all manner of unsavory behavior for the green stuff. Soooo, I’m guessing you have figured out that a theme has just been introduced!
Each of the actors, with the exception of Ralph Byers as Franklin plays multiple roles with impressive fluidity. The story is simple. It follows the travels of a one hundred dollar bill as it changes hands over the course of time. Visually, this is a comic treat as each time our friend Ben is surrendered, he is physically taken by the hand, grabbed by the arm or just shoved off the set by his new owner.
Each new recipient is vastly different from the last. This is where the play runs into trouble. The actors are as facile and talented as you could ask a performer to be. The problem is, flat out stock characters populate the entire play. The audience will meet the stripper with a heart of gold who is just trying to support her baby and her utterly useless boyfriend. She in turn will run into the hedge fund manager who has sold his drunken soul. There is the proverbial bored rich lady hitting on her stereotypically Mexican gardener who is in turn only trying to make a better life for his family. Now, the rich lady is a world-class poker player, which is a fun touch, slightly belittled by the fact that she fakes out her opponents by playing the “dumb blonde”.
You will come across an evangelical preacher raking in the cash from his adoring parish and a corrupt congressman (imagine!) having an affair with his cocaine snorting lobbyist. who breaks into a random lament about what the leadership in the country has devolved into over the years. About three quarters through the play I really wanted to cry out “OK! I get it! Money is bad! Root of all evil! Enough already!”
That’s the bad. Now I’ll move onto the good. The cast works beautifully as an ensemble. Both Ralph Byers and Sandra DeNise have absolutely glorious singing voices. DeNise does a lovely job portraying the talented daughter of the aforementioned gardener yearning to make her way in the music industry. There’s sweetness to her performance that manages to miss saccharine. Ralph Byers is funny and wry and regretful and generally a pleasure to watch. Shout out to Brennan Caldwell for his performance as a cartoonish, gay, French hair stylist who turns out to be a regular guy from Queens with two kids.
The music by David Friedman is admirably quirky. Ann Beyersdorfer provides a very clever, simple set comprised of black boxes that can be anything from a law office to a pulpit to a bar. The backdrop is a series of squares making up the shape of the US with inventive projections by Ido Levran that reflect the changing environments. The costumes, which are myriad, By Vanessa Leuck are impressive in their ever-changing variety.
This is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or evening, but don’t go into it expecting to have your socks knocked off!
- Directed and choreographed by Michael Chase Gosselin
- Cast includes Ralph Byers, Brennan Caldwell, Sandra DeNise, George Merrick
- Davenport Theater, New York
- Until 6 August 2017
- Review by Patricia Reed
- 28 July 2017
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