nytheatre.com review by Eric Pliner
June 8, 2006
In Roger Kirby's Burleigh Grime$, Wall Street stockbrokers stake their careers on expensive, high-risk investments, knowing that one day's good fortune may turn them into failures the next. Unfortunately, the expensive (in apparent production costs, and at $70, certainly in ticket price) risk that is this new off-Broadway production leans towards the latter, leaving its audience befuddled and a cast of Broadway darlings and second-tier television stars in its wake.
Hell-bent on revenge against a former mentor who double-crossed him, Burleigh Grimes (Desperate Housewives' Mark Moses) hires the man's son, George Radbourn (James Badge Dale), to work for him alongside two more seasoned employees, Buck and Hap (John Lavelle and Jason Antoon). As it happens, Buck is George's friend from college, and he's not the only one: George's former flame Grace Redding (Ashley Williams) is the eager-beaver assistant to Burleigh's partner-in-crime, television business reporter Elizabeth Bigley (Wendie Malick, from the sitcom Just Shoot Me). Crossing and double-crossing and triple-crossing ensue, until each character gets what he or she deserves, more or less, and until the audience has no idea what's going on. Grime$' plot is convoluted and difficult to understand, and the production is further weighed down by a take-home message of moral relativism that's delivered about as subtly as its characters' names (Radbourn, he of the coolly-privileged birth; Bigley, the all-important television news star; Grimes, the seedy, underhanded title character; and so on). A little bad thing, Burleigh Grime$ seems to say, is okay if it leads to a bigger good thing. Or does it? I'm still not entirely clear.
Of course, the promise of new music by David Yazbek (composer of The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is enticing, but unfortunately, it shouldn't be: Burleigh Grime$ is not a musical, but instead a half-baked straight play with live musicians (drummers, mostly) underscoring the action. It's never effectively demonstrated why the production chooses live musicians instead of pre-recorded music, although their presence seems to fill out James Youmans's attractively glitzy modular set (already enhanced by Michael Clark's slick projections). Ostensibly, the music is coupled with Andy Blankenbuehler's musical staging (not choreography, per se) that illuminates the action, but quite the opposite is true—the music and amateurish dance in Burleigh Grime$ neither progress the story nor do they enhance the entertainment. Like much of this production, they're just there.
Strangely, the most compelling member of the company has the smallest role. As the "Coffee Girl" and "Wife," the eminently-watchable Nancy Anderson (late of off-Broadway oddity Fanny Hill) is both a delight and a distraction, using her cartoon-character voice and lithe dancing style to her advantage. It's a shame she doesn't have more to do. John Lavelle is a swell comedian who seems capable of more than his role allows; perhaps he would have been a better choice for the leading role of George Radbourn than Dale, whose irritating characterization leaves the audience unlikely to root for him. Speaking of irritating, two pre-recorded cameo appearances by CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer may add to the atmosphere of hyper-masculinity, but that's hardly worth having to watch and listen to him scream on a giant TV screen during an evening at the theatre.
And while Malick and Moses are serviceable in their performances, neither their degree of "fame" (a term I use loosely) nor their particular talents seem to warrant the star treatment that this production gives them. In fact, that's a fair characterization of the production as a whole: with glitzy sets, experienced Broadway performers, and a Tony-nominated composer, one would expect a result worthy of such terrific treatment. And one would end up disappointed.