PTC’s ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ rewards with artistic dividends aplenty

Pioneer Theatre Company’s The Lehman Trilogy is Broadway-level perfection.

The sterling drama tells a family saga with a bit of wit and words, words, words. Three-and-one-half riveting hours of words. Exhilarating words written as a narrative poem in blank verse. “A temple of words!” one of the Lehman brothers thunders.

The words conjoined with the theatricality are utterly astonishing. Seth Andrew Bridges, William Connell and Jeff Talbot are superb actors. They not only perform as the three Lehman brothers who immigrated to America, but also as sons, wives, and grandchildren, and each actor is excellent in their multiple parts. They make dozens of quicksilver character changes, only lightly aided by Yoon Bae’s subtle-yet-period-accurate costuming.

The Lehman Trilogy is masterfully acted and brilliantly staged. Karen Azenberg’s impressive skills as director of the play are evident.

The script is a master achievement. Adapted from an Italian script by Englishman Ben Power and originally directed for the UK’s National Theatre by another Brit in Sam Mendes of American Beauty fame. On Broadway the play was honored with eight Tony nominations, winning for Best Play and Best Direction.

We learn the journey of the Lehman family, founders of the global banking empire, from the arrival of Henry, Emanual and Meyer Lehman in America in the 1840s to the 2008 collapse of the financial behemoth.

A trilogy, because the story is split into three acts. The history of Lehman Brothers investment bank is related, from its roots as a dry-goods store in Montgomery, Alabama, to the last involvement of anyone named Lehman, with the death of Robert Lehman, grandson of the founders.

We learn what their ambitions wrought. As the drama becomes more charged and the tone becomes savage, there’s boardroom talk of how to get people to buy things they don’t want with money they don’t have. The financial firm goes bankrupt, triggering the global financial crisis.

The Lehman Trilogy inaugurates the company’s Meldrum Theatre, as a second, more intimate theater space, with a three-quarter (circle) “thrust” seating arrangement circling the stage. There’s no proscenium above and around the stage; the stage extends into the audience area.

It’s a lovely theater, adding to Pioneer’s storytelling capabilities. Many ardent theatergoers were anticipating the possibility of additional productions, beyond the seven the company now stages. Instead, one of the seven productions will be seen in the black box-like theater, allowing a more direct connection between the audience and the onstage performers for select productions.

It’s a different challenge to direct and act in this near-round seating configuration. Azenberg and the actors excel at the challenge. The same can’t be said of Bae, who along with the costumes designed the set. The set’s backdrop is an extended “v.” My BroadwayWorld colleague, from his seat at the center of the theater, was nearly engulfed, but I was seated to one side, without the ability to see the entire set.
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PTC SEE AGAIN Each of the three musicals in Pioneer’s 2024–2025 seasons is beyond familiar to active theatergoers. Waitress, Jersey Boys, and Beautiful had long runs on Broadway and have each toured Salt Lake. Waitress and Jersey Boys could have been seen in movie theaters. Sadly, active theatergoers (and I) can only look forward to musicals that we are already familiar with. And… Familiarity breeds contempt.

CATS REDUX A major revisal, Cats: The Jellicle Ball, is inspired by the Ballroom culture that roared out of New York City over 50 years ago and still rages on runways around the world. Staged as a spectacularly immersive competition by Zhailon Levingston (Tina: The Tina Turner Musical, Chicken & Biscuits) and Bill Rauch, artistic director of the new Performing Arts Center NYC on the World Trade Center site. And … My son Cooper is the associate director.

Cooper Howell

► June 13-July 4, 2024,

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