Enron, welcome to Broadway
A British hit play based on the 2001 scandal is set to come to New York next spring - then to a movie theater near you.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Can Jeff Skilling sell tickets on Broadway? That's the bet being wagered by a team of New York theater producers who are spending some $3.6 million to bring a version of "Enron," a theatrical production currently running in London, to Broadway next spring.
The U.K. show has been a hit since it opened in a small theater in July, selling out almost every night, and now set to graduate to the West End in January. Last month its director, 37-year-old Rupert Goold, took home the best director prize at London's Evening Standard theater awards, while the Guardian called actor Samuel West's performance "hugely impressive as the self-deluded [CEO Jeffrey] Skilling."
Conceived by 28-year-old playwright Lucy Prebble, the show documents the rise and fall of the energy company, complete with dramatic re-creations of Skilling and CFO Andy Fastow planning special-purpose entities and, yes, song-and-dance numbers (one of the big ones is known by the cast as the "Commodities Chorus").
"When you're in a bubble, you can actually be quite surreal because that's what it's like before it bursts," says Prebble of the whimsical performances. "We thought we could get away with people breaking into song."
Prebble, who also created the Showtime series "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," says "Enron" is her attempt to "show the show business of business." She spent a year researching the company's rise and fall before she started to write; during rehearsals she and the cast took a field trip to the London Metal Exchange.
So what can U.S. audiences expect? Jeffrey Richards, a producer behind recent Broadway hits "August: Osage County" and "Spring Awakening" and one of the producers behind the U.S. version of "Enron," says that casting has not been finalized. Goold jokes that he'd love to see someone like Tom Cruise play Skilling; rumors that Kevin Spacey was up for the part were said to be untrue.
But a big name could still channel Skilling on the big screen: in September, Columbia Pictures picked up movie rights to the play. "I had read a lot about Enron and I didn't really understand it until I read her play," says producer Laura Ziskin.
But despite the show's success, Prebble says she has no plans to dramatize events of the past year on Wall Street with a sequel on, say, the fall of Lehman Brothers: "After a year of research [on Enron], I never want to read an economics book again."