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A CurtainUp Review
Yes, of course, Dr. Franklin is long dead; but he's "on the money" (specifically, the one hundred dollar bill), as he tells us in an opening quartet sung with three other statesmen whose faces also appear on United States currency.
Welcome to Money Talks, the wacky new musical in which — you guessed it! — George Washington (George Merrick), Alexander Hamilton (Sandra DeNise), and Abraham Lincoln (Brennan Caldwell) join Franklin (Ralph Byers) to express their dismay in song. Noticeably absent is Andrew Jackson, who appears to have been blackballed from this historical fraternity. Of course, Jackson had his own Broadway musical back in 2010 — and he has been claimed as a role model by the current president, whose ascendance is the elephant in the auditorium.
Franklin believes something should be done posthaste to rekindle the Founding Fathers' values in the hearts and minds of the Americans he has been encountering while stuck on the face of the hundred dollar bill. And what better way to do it than with song and dance?
Money Talks by Peter Kellogg (book and lyrics) and David Friedman (music) is directed and choreographed by Michael Chase Gosselin. During the show's 90 minutes, poor Benjamin gets passed from hand to hand in a variety of commercial transactions, some quite sketchy indeed. And as Franklin travels the country, we the audience get a continental tour. Our route is charted by Ido Levran's amusing projections which combine video, still photography, and cartoons.
Broadway veteran Byers, on stage throughout, is a fine singer and a dab hand at comic timing. He gets the script's best lines, many of them quotations and paraphrases from Poor Richard's Almanac.
The three actors who don't play Franklin handle a multitude of roles and sing 15 numbers (a generous load for such a brief book musical). The most noteworthy songs go to Sandra DeNise, who demonstrates impressive range in both chest and head voices. DeNise plays a variety of hussies and grifters, as well as Alexander Hamilton. At the beginning and end of the play, she's Jenny, a serious-minded dancer working in a strip club to pay the bills. Jenny reappears near the finale, having left her demoralizing day job (and her no-count boyfriend). By jettisoning the stripper's life (as well as a toxic domestic relationship), she's acting in accordance with Dr. Franklin's maxim: "When you're finished changing, you're finished."
"I'm working at Macy's now . . . taking dance classes when I can," Jenny tells Tom (Caldwell), who she met at the strip club when he was a hard-drinking hedge fund manager with pockets deep enough to afford hundred-dollar tips. Now, like her, he's just a working stiff (separated from a wife with meretricious values), making "enough to get by" and liking himself better for his sober existence and more altruistic ambitions.
Together, Jenny and Tom embody this musical's little-engine-that-could spirit. When Tom asks her whether she wants to be a dancer now that she's free of the strip club, Jenny's emphatic answer is "I already am a dancer. I want to be a better dancer."
The authors of the pocket-sized Money Talks undoubtedly wanted this to be a better musical. Their premise is funny enough, and their hearts are in tune with Manhattan audiences at this cultural moment when the White House is being redecorated in faux Versailles splendor.
The cast, accompanied by music director David Hancock Turner, performs Friedman's compositions with flair. A veteran of New York cabaret and musical theater, Friedman wrote signature songs for the late Nancy LaMott, including the haunting ballad "We're Living on Borrowed Time." His endearing score for Money Talks, with well-crafted lyrics by Kellogg, is the musical's best asset.
Ann Beyersdorfer's no-frills set, enhanced by Catherine Clark's lighting, permits the action to zip from scene to scene without impediment. Ido Levran's projections frequently score guffaws from the audience. Vanessa Leuck's costumes are appropriately cheesy for the largely unsavory dramatis personae; and Bobbie Zlotnik has provided a parade of bad-looking wigs (presumably on purpose).
Kellogg's book feels to be still at the workshop stage. Most of the characters are ciphers; some are offensive stereotypes. Much of the dialogue is predictable and several scenes border on the hackneyed. Money Talks is a timely entertainment that would benefit from more time in the making.
Here are links to Curtainup's previous encounters with team Friedman and Kellog: Listen to My Heart and Chasing Nicolette
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Book & Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed & Choreographed by Michael Chase Gosselin
Music Direction by David Hancock Turner
Cast: Ralph Byers as Benjamin Franklin,with Brennan Caldwell, Sandra DeNise and George Merrick
Scenic design: Ann Beyersdorfer
Costumes: Vanessa Leuck
Lighting design: Catherine Clark
Sound design: Patrick LaChance
Running time: 95 minutes.
Davenport Theatre 354 W 45 Street www.MoneyTalksMusical.com
From 7/23/17; opening 7/23/17.
Monday, Tuesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday at 3 pm & 7:30 pm; Friday at 8:30 pm;Saturday at 3 pm & 8:30 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.
Reviewed by Charles Wright
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