BBC BLOGS - Gomp/arts
« Previous | Main | Next »

Enron closes: Vive la difference?

Post categories:

Will Gompertz | 10:22 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

Enron is closing on Broadway less than two weeks after its official opening. That's bad for the producers, for the cast and for any American theatre-goers who will now have to travel to London's West End, where the show is still playing.

Stephen Kunken as Enron CFO Andy Fastow

There will be lots of conjecture as to why a show that was a hit with London audiences failed to do impress New Yorkers. Already this morning there is a three-page post-mortem examination in the Guardian.

The truth is that nobody knows why Enron didn't cut it on Broadway. Maybe a play written and produced by Brits criticising the mismanagement that led to the collapse of an American energy company was too hard to swallow as BP tries to clean up the oil off the coast of Louisiana.

Or it could have been the New York Times wot dun it. Its theatre critic Ben Brantley gave the show a damning write-up, calling it "a flashy but labored economics lesson". The paper's opinion certainly carries a lot of weight. Perhaps the final straw was the play's failure to receive the nod for the Best Play short-list in the recently announced Tony Award nominations, which was seen by many as a vote of no confidence.

Much more fun, of course, is to go down the parochial route. "Oh, those Americans are so vulgar, they simply don't understand the nuances of a great work" and so on. Such protestations have embarrassment and humiliation at their heart, our taste being called into question by someone we desperately want to impress.

But for all the hand-wringing, head-scratching, OMG-how-could-they reaction, there is a silver lining to this dark theatrical cloud. At least the Western world's great streets of theatre - Broadway and Shaftesbury Avenue - might be saved from the homogenisation that has made High Streets from Birmingham to Beijing look the same.

When I went to Beijing a couple of years ago, I was expecting nobody to speak English, food that contained things that would make a health and safety officer very angry and shops that emerged from houses as garages do in the wealthy West. The reality was that the Hutong have all but disappeared, replaced by characterless high-rises. And everybody seemed to speak English - to you, all the time, because they were all learning the language at once - and the High Street contained the same shops as you would find in London, New York and even Maidstone. The only difference was that their tourist shops sell over-priced flavoured teas and ours sell over-priced, over-sized postcards of faux punks with their breasts hanging out.

EnronThe great excitement of travel is to explore, appreciate and experience different cultures. One way to do this is through a country's arts: the festivals, literature, theatre and telly. Few things will give you a more undiluted, direct sense of the past, present and attitude to the future of the place you are visiting.

There has always been trading between London and New York when it comes to theatre: several American shows are running in London theatres at the moment and vice versa. But these have tended to be musicals or very showbizzy productions, less straight drama. That has started to change with producers now making announcements that commit a production to both London and New York before the show has opened anywhere. But something important would be lost if, in a few years' time, this trend grew to such an extent that the posters on theatre billboards on Broadway and Shaftesbury Avenue were indistinguishable.

Anyway, what do the Americans know? They can't even spell "theatre".


  • Comment number 1.

    Will Gompertz wrote:

    "The truth is that nobody knows why Enron didn't cut it on Broadway"

    No, but we all still have the opportunity to speculate!

    National hubris and schadenfreude explain why the British went to Enron the play. The US hated it for the inverse of the same reasons. It was their problem so we congratulated ourselves it was not our problem. The US citizens are sacred of looking too deeply into the inner workings of their economy - particularly for entertainment. For us it was escapist, for them it is too close to home and what is more it shines a light on their darkest fears - that the Gods of Wall Street are hollow men that will destroy the country - Madoff is just the tip of an iceberg that has holed their titanic economy below the waterline.

  • Comment number 2.

    Enron play closes with big losses? No irony deficiency then!

  • Comment number 3.

    As part of the middle class American Demographic going to Broadway is an expensive treat. My family and I just went to see Race (off Broadway) after selling some unneeded jewelery and decided we all needed a little fun. It cost about $120 per person (about 94 euro) for tickets and transportation to NYC. The average American citizen had to make some serious sacrifices with this economy crisis and if we can afford the luxury of going to see a Broadway play we have to make it count. I have no idea what a good seat at Enron costs but your average Middle Class citizen probably is going to get tickets for something that doesn't remind them why they can't see Broadway plays more often. Upper class citizens don't want to be reminded why everyone else is angry at them right now.

  • Comment number 4.

    In America, countless books have been written, and tons of documentaries and films were made concerning Enron. The Smartest Guys In The Room was probably the most popular film about the whole scandal, and that came out FIVE years ago. So I believe the claim that "The US citizens are sacred of looking too deeply into the inner workings of their economy - particularly for entertainment" is incorrect, we've been looking at it for a long time. I don't know why the play didn't do well, but I don't believe the argument above is the reason.

  • Comment number 5.

    "The truth is that nobody knows why Enron didn't cut it on Broadway"

    Subject matter that just simply doesnt interest the common person?

  • Comment number 6.

    An arts journal by Will Gomertz ? Maybe for part of the article. The paragraph on Beijing and all high streets looking the same has no relevance as to why Enron failed on Broadway and is completely irrelevant. But that is the wonder of the blog. Random thoughts spewed out as they come to ones head. Exactly what I am doing now. LOL. I am a Brit living in Chicago and saw Enron in London earlier this year and thought that it would be successful on Broadway. Shows you what I know. Too satirical for the Americans ? Too close to the heart for the Americans ? Sweeping generalities but this is my blog. Who knows why it did not succeed. It is their loss.

  • Comment number 7.

    When I saw Enron in the West End and heard it was opening on Broadway, I and my three friends all agreed it would flop -- it was a no-brainer. Our group was comprised of one American, one Brit, and two continental Europeans. Behind us were Americans, who were also laughing that this play would never succeed on Broadway. The West End Friday night audience was comprised mostly of older people -- lots of grey heads -- and a number of the older men were falling asleep. As I heard the play, I felt more and more that this was a case of the emperor's new clothes: people had come to see a great play that simply wasn't there.
    (1) My guess is that the play has suffered in the transfer from its beginnings in a small intimate theatre space to a large super-commercial theatre, where the production looks, sounds and feels very slick and very very "establishment".
    (2) This material is no news to Americans, who have known about Enron for years. The play is preaching to the converted. For the best take on Enron, to my mind, please watch the film Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room. Great stuff!
    (3) The slick sell of the show -- glitzy lights and raptors and music -- is all good fun, but it's the kind of good cheesy old fun you could get for free watching the telly on Saturday night.
    Finally, I'd like to add that the English shock/horror that this play sank on Broadway says more about preconceived notions that the English have about Americans than anything illuminating about the production itself. It's just not an engaging and alive and kicking piece of theatre in its present, overburdened state in a huge West End theatre -- let alone Broadway. Please. Americans voted in Obama. Let's put behind us the bad old days of taking pot shots at Americans for being vulgar or philistine, unsophisticated, or politically backwards. What nonsense. What we had here was a good and feisty aggressive play for a small space that simply got swallowed up in its own hubris and success as it cut its own lifestrings and moved to bigger spaces and "bigger" production values because people wanted the show to make lots of money for them. The Americans had nothing to do with it -- all they did was see a spade and call it a spade.

  • Comment number 8.

    I saw Enron this week in NY & loved it. But it's really not well-suited to the US market. Most theater-goers in the US are women in their 50's. (The same people who would go to a ballet.) High corporate finance (at least in the US) is heavy on the testosterone, and testosterone-heavy stories about just don't appeal to older women (who wouldn't be allowed into the world of high finance due to its glass ceiling, & therefore lost any interest they might have had when younger.) Also, there's no strong female lead (the person who plays Rebecca Mark is great, but still Rebecca wasn't that big a player in the scandal, and she comes across in the play as soulless & slutty). Also, most of the music in the play seems to be "techno." Again, not appealing to the age of the average theater-goer.

    Also, I'm shocked that the producers thought people from Wall St would want to see this. Who wants to see a musical that mocks their career & intellect? Finally, the play does have an anti-US bias - from NYC to Texas, the play skewers us. I appreciated the cleverness of the segues, the neat choreography of the dancing traders and the cohesiveness of the multi-media presentation. But, on the other hand, we actually went to see it as a joke. The idea of Enron being made into a musical seemed so implausible to us. To us, it's really the modern equivalent of "Springtime for Hitler." You wouldn't expect "Springtime for Hitler" to be a hit in Germany 10 years after the war ended, would you? There you have it.

  • Comment number 9.

    What did this play have to say besides, "look at the stupid Americans"? Besides being about 4 years too late (sorry, life went on here), what else did it have to offer that was worth a month's wages and a 1000+ mile journey? Would Brits spend that kind of money to see a show about MPs expense accounts?... Maybe it's time for Britain to re-evaluate the basis for that superiority complex.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.