Money Talks, the Musical

Brennan Caldwell, Ralph Byers, George Merrick (above), Sandra Denise

 

 

by Michael Bracken

 

You can take it to the bank: money talks. Literally. At least it does in Money Talks, the Musical, at the Davenport Theatre, where Benjamin Franklin (Ralph Byers) is a walking, talking hundred-dollar bill. C-note and founding father are one and the same in this superficial series of songful sketches by Peter Kellogg (book and lyrics) and David Friedman (music).

For the opening number, Franklin is joined by Washington (George Merrick), Lincoln (Brennan Caldwell), and Hamilton (Sandra DeNise). Each, like Franklin, is attired in colonial dress and carrying a large cardboard replica of their trademark currency, with their heads peeking through large cut-out holes in the oversized bills.

It’s hard to tell whether they love or hate their status. They complain about being memorialized on “dirty, filthy, vulgar legal tender,” yet they flaunt their popularity. After Franklin reprimands the others for reveling in their fame, they leave, and we find Ben in a strip joint courtesy of Tom, a drunk hedge fund broker and, for the moment, Ben’s proprietor.

Like any hundred-dollar bill, Ben gets passed from owner to owner, and we get to see a slice of the lives of the assortment of characters who possess him. They’re all portrayed by the three other actors from the opening number. The journey starts when Tom tips a stripper, Jenny, and goes on to her low-life boyfriend, Floyd, who steals the bill and loses it, in a game of Texas Hold’em, to Brooke, a beautiful woman who plays her cards close to her ample breasts and relieves Floyd of Mr. Franklin in the process.

 

Peter Byers, George Merrick, Brennan Caldwell, Sandra DeNise

 

Brooke complains her husband’s never home as she unsuccessfully puts the moves on their gardener, Jorge. She tips him $100 anyway, and he passes the note on to his daughter, Juanita. Juanita is an extremely talented singer. She finds true love at her first recording session and is a star-in-the-making by play’s end. We also meet a hairdresser who pretends to be gay and French because it’s good for business, a con artist preacher, and an easily-bribed adoption agency official.

Ben is present throughout, spouting his own aphorisms and sharing mundane observations that go unheard by the characters onstage. His initial charm slowly fades as he continues to emit variations on the same theme throughout. If the characters he encounters had some substance, we might not mind his being paper thin. But they don’t, and we do.

 

George Merrick, Sandra DeNise, Brennan Caldwell, Peter Byers

 

Caldwell and Merrick both sing well and try their best, with varying success, to breathe life into characters who tend to me one-dimensional stereotypes.

DeNise fares better, with a powerful voice that knocks her songs out of the park. She makes her characters seem surprisingly real in spite of themselves.

Michael Chase Gosselin directs efficiently, but his choreography seems amateurish. Admittedly, it’s not the kind of show (small stage, small cast) where a choreographer can shine. Costumes by Vanessa Leuck are clever and appealing. Franklin’s frock coat and trousers slyly duplicate the features of the hundred-dollar bill without being overwhelmingly obvious. DeNises’s dresses are consistently flattering and colorful.

Friedman’s score is bland, and Kellogg’s lyrics strained. For example, he rhymes “famouser” with “Aaron Burr,” and two lines later uses the same non-word again. There are flashes of wit, however, as when  Jenny relates what her imagined sugar daddy has that’s real: class, savoir faire, style, and estate.

Money Talks’s biggest problem is its failure to communicate a convincing point of view. Two pairs of couples go down the love over money path, which is where the show seems to want us all to go. It’s trite, to be sure, but might be less so with a bit more context.

 

At the Davenport Theatre, 354W. 45th Street. 90 minutes with no intermission. Through September 3. www.MoneyTalksMusical.com.

 

Photos: Jeremy Daniels

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