PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Enron — Houston, We Have a Money Problem

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Enron — Houston, We Have a Money Problem
Meet the first-nighters at the opening of Broadway's Enron.
Enron stars Stephen Kunken and Norbert Leo Butz with director Rupert Goold; playwright Lucy Prebble and guests James Van Der Beek and Aaron Tveit.
Enron stars Stephen Kunken and Norbert Leo Butz with director Rupert Goold; playwright Lucy Prebble and guests James Van Der Beek and Aaron Tveit. Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN


Norbert Leo Butz, who won his Tony for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, brings new meaning to that title in Enron, a body-blow to Texas wheeler-dealers delivered April 27 to the Broadhurst by a Brit named Lucy Prebble.

"He's the biggest scoundrel of all of them, right?" Butz grinned in agreement about Jeffrey Skilling, the convicted corporate con-artist who short-circuited Houston's mighty mega-energy company in 2001, taking all hands to hell in a hand-basket.

The actor entered the guilty-as-charged plea on entering the press area upstairs at the Redeye Grill an hour or so after putting a kinetically comical version of Skilling on the Broadway stage. He tears through this play like a Tasmanian devil on a full tank of helium, foot-to-pedal, scheming his empty dreams of greed and grandeur.

Enron is just the place for the high-energy emoting Butz has brought, not only to Scoundrels but to Speed-the-Plow, Fifty Words and Is He Dead? as well. Plainly, he's not dead. A fireball in perpetual motion.

"My natural metabolism must be at about 100 decibels," he figured. "I think that I think and move at a faster velocity than most people, and I can't really do anything about that. I try to do all the right stuff. I try to sleep and eat right, but, mostly, the play is what thrills me. It energizes me. It really comes from the play itself." So does most of his research on his current incarcerated character. "The play is so incredibly well-researched that it did most of my work. I read the book that Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind wrote ["Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron"], and I boned up on my Darwin. Really the play is so rich, it took care of a lot of the work for me."

Skilling couldn't, and didn't, bring Enron to its corporate knees all by himself. He was helped by the ambition of his assistant, Andy Fastow (Stephen Kunken), whose "virtual reality" accounting system turned Enron into a financial Hindenburg. And it didn't hurt that good-ol-boy CEO Kenneth Lay (Gregory Itzin) was a Bible-thumper who looked the other way when massive misconduct was riddling, and eventually ruining, the company he founded.

Because Lay, who did not live to see sentencing, is positioned on a rarified plane well above the scheming-and-double-dealing of his minions, he comes off a more soft-focused heavy. Some of that is Itzin's doing. "A villain doesn't think of himself as a villain — nor should the person playing him," explained the actor. "You have to like him when you play him. All of his motives, in the script that I worked with, are positive things — belief in God, belief in family, he loves that game of politics, and he loves the company because it is his company. He is the one who started it."

Fastow will be released from prison next year, and, should the show still be running and should he care to check it out, he would find himself played by a member of his alma mater — Tufts. "Andy was about ten years ahead of me, so I knew who he was," said Kunken. "Then, when I knew I was going to play him, I went and tried to pick up as much source material as I could. There's a lot because it's a recent current event so there's a lot of great source material to pick on. Then you go to the script. Lucy did an amazing job — with Fastow especially, just laying out his journey and his arc.

"I hope people come with open minds — laugh when it's funny, gasp when it's horrific — and take the journey. At the end of the day, it is a tale of morality gone awry. We're all implicated by it in some way. I hope people don't shy away."

At least they won't be seeing a dry, pontificating lecture on moral bankruptcy. "I loved working on it. It's such a huge thing. You get to do music, you get to do crazy costumes and dance and then you slip into a book scene — it's one of everything."

[flipbook] Case in point: When Skilling, Lay and Fastow are introduced in the show, they tap their way on stage with canes, wearing sunglasses and gray-flannel suits, as The Three Blind Mice. And in the bowels of Enron where Fastow stirs his toxic cauldron there is a quartet of dinosaur-headed raptors devouring dollar-bill debt in huge gulps.

Rupert Goold, the adventurous young Brit who directed Patrick Stewart's Macbeth last season on Broadway, has been unsparing with theatrical tricks, in effect viewing this American tragedy through a kaleidoscope.

Enron often plays like a musical and, according to Goold, was a musical in its first draft, "but we felt that it was not clear that way. We always wanted it to feel like a musical, even if it wasn't a musical. We didn't set out to have musical-theatre actors in it, but it's not surprising we got Marin Mazzie and Norbert in it. The two have energy. They're great actors, but they've also got such showbiz about them. So, although we adored the British cast, these guys do it for this audience in a different way."

The Americanization of Enron was necessary for a Broadway run, he said. "It's a very political subject over here. I didn't underestimate that, but I think I didn't realize how sensitive people were about it. I don't really like to think of it as a play about Enron. It is a play about Enron. It's a play about what's going on in the world now. It's fantastically fun, but it's about a serious issue. It's not got a lot of movie stars in it. It's got a 29-year-old woman playwright. These are things to celebrate. Those who love theatre want these things going on — or do they want a bunch of movie stars plunging through revivals directed by people who have been around for ages?"

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Prebble admitted she rolled up her sleeves and rewrote for Broadway a play that was already acclaimed in Britain. "Absolutely, I did," she said. "There were certain lines in the play that the American cast picked up on that seemed slightly English. We have a Texan in our cast named Brandon [J. Dirden]. He's from Houston, and he lived through the whole thing, and he was always giving me great advice about little tweaks. "I did quite a few of just line rewrites. And also I actually cut some scenes from the Broadway show so there was some quite substantial rewriting. That was about, simply, that American audiences are much more familiar with the story than a British audience — I picked up on that in previews so we did some cuts."

The homework Prebble put in is awesome and conspicuous. "About a year's worth of research," she guessed. "After about a year, you have to think, 'Well, I've got to stop now and actually write.' Physically, you can get bogged down in research and commit to it so much that you never actually do any writing. So I felt I knew everything I needed to know about Enron when I had to put the books away and just start writing for character and story."

She uses the actual names of the Enron culprits, with one exception: the hard, sexy blonde on the premises played by Mazzie. "She's a combination of several female executives, and I didn't feel comfortable assigning one of those women's names to her because I wanted her to do something very specific in the narrative. I wanted her to behave in a certain way. I actually didn't feel comfortable giving a real name to that person when I was using them as a dramatic device."

Comparisons to Faye Dunaway in "Network" drew ooooohs from author and actress alike. And, no, Mazzie — in a rare unmusical outing — doesn't feel naked without a song. She has been acting in musicals all along, she insisted. "The thing that upsets me is that people think that just because you sing you're not an actor. I'm an actor first. I just happen to be able to sing. I happen to be able to interpret a song, through my acting ability. And I happen to be able to pull my chords together and make a tune. I guess that's gravy, in a sense. But I'm an actor first."

Mazzie was last to arrive at the cramped press room — on the arm of her hubby and frequent singer partner, Jason Danieley, who stood beside her smiling for the cameras until a publicist finally shooed him away so she could do interviews. He drifted my way, like Norman Maine. Turns out, he's lifting his voice all over the place: "I'm doing an Actors Fund benefit at Feinstein's on May 5 with my band, The Frontier Heroes. "This past weekend, I played Kalamazoo, MI. Marin had to, of course, bow out of a concert we were supposed to do there because of Enron so Karen [Ziemba, Danieley's stage wife in Curtains] stepped in, and I created a whole evening for the two of us. And I have 100 percent approval from my wife."

Evidently so. Living proof soon showed up, and Ziemba posed for pictures with the happy couple. But I worry. Danieley's going deeper into music, and Mazzie's going deeper into acting — it all sounds like "The Barkleys of Broadway" to me.

Ziemba's going the straight and musically narrow route, too. She just finished a nonmusical role in A.R. Gurney, Jr.'s Sylvia, and now, she said, "I'm going to do a new Steven Dietz play at The Penguin Rep up at Stony Point, NY — Shooting Star, a two-hander which has never been done." In addition, she will be doing her one-woman show at the gala benefit for Long Wharf Theatre.

"I had a good time, not a great one," assessed Dick Cavett "It was partly because I only had five hours sleep, and I watched the Goldman Sachs hearings today. I watched that this afternoon and then the play tonight — it was a perfect lead-in. Did they move Heaven and Earth to open on the same day as the hearings?"

Woody Allen improbably led off the photo tip-sheet but characteristically avoided the ordeal. Then, there were Guy Pearce; model Yaya DaCosta; Tony-and-Emmy winner Cherry Jones, who has lapsed back into her nun habit for the "Mother and Child" flick; the sometimes "Mr. Big," Chris Noth; Danes 'n' Dancy (Claire and Hugh to you); Stephanie March minus Bobby Flay; and Stephen Pasquale minus Laura Benanti; Mamie Gummer; Eric Bogosian, beyond Time Stands Still; James Van Der Beek; Mary Lynn Rajskub of TV's "24"; Raul Esparza; Tamara Tunie; Marian Seldes; Kathleen Chalfant; Jessica Collins of "Tru Calling"; Milena Govich; singer Peter Cincotti; Jim and Julie Dale; Kunken's wife, the rising Off-Broadway director Jenn Thompson (TACT's The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, The Late Christopher Bean); Jill Clayburgh; Nathan Purdee of "One Life To Live"; Aaron Tveit, in transition from Next to Normal to Catch Me If You Can; and Pia Glenn, the bump-and-grind Condoleezza Rice for Will Ferrell's George W.

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