The Lure of Enron’s Lore

It only makes sense that the story of Enron, already literally the stuff of movies, is also the stuff of musicals. After all, it was barely a week ago that chief executive Jeff Skilling’s latest courtroom song-and-dance routine got him a brief reprieve from having to report to jail.

Earlier this month, "Enron -- The Musical," opened to a near-capacity, 300-seat house in Houston for a two-week run. The 90-minute show, penned by Mark Fraser (a manufacturer’s representative for a  janitorial supply company by day), sets its lyrics to familiar show tunes -- including “The Sound of Shredding,” “On Broadband,” “There’s No Business Like Barge Business,” and “Seventy-Six Indictments” (from “The Music Man’s,” “Seventy-Six Trombones”).

The musical grew out of comedy sketches Fraser wrote for a Houston Press Club show four years ago, but he isn’t the only one who’s ever waxed poetic about Enron’s musical possibilities.

Alex Gibney, writer and director of the critically-praised 2005 documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” wrote in the movie’s promotional materials that there was plenty of black comedy to be found within the story of the company’s downfall:

“One of the most remarkable things about Enron is how theatrical the company was. This was a whole company of drama queens and kings. [Skilling] was a masterful actor and orator. By the accounts of all the employees I interviewed, people used to hang from the rafters to hear him speak. The two soaring silver skyscrapers in Houston -- the second designed by the great architect Cesar Pelli -- were great stage sets. Many of chief financial officer Andy Fastow’s illegal “special purpose vehicles” were named after Star Wars characters: “Jedi,” “Chewco,” etc. And the commercials Enron commissioned … evoke a gaudy corporate phantasmagoria complete with floating executive heads as targets in a carny shooting range, competitors dressed up in puffy costumes as the three blind mice, and a tin woodsman gliding down the canals of Venice in a gondola.

“But for pure theater the most interesting materials at Enron were the company skits and presentations that each division spent months preparing. They included real elephants, toga-clad Romans on palanquins throwing, yes, dollar bills at the assembled multitudes, and female executives making grand entrances on motorcycles dressed all in black leather. But more important, many of the skits themselves actually revolved around the various frauds at the heart of the company.”

Gibney says that whether the skits were playful fantasy, mockumentaries or cinema vérité, most actual copies remain underground -- copies of which government prosecutors refrained from trotting out during the prosecution of Skilling and Lay.

For Fraser’s production, there are happy endings beyond the musical itself, which traces the history of Enron from its early years to its collapse in 2001. Fraser, who put $25,000 of his own savings into the production, said in an e-mail last week that the show will go on following revisions, after wrapping up its two-week, six-show run (tickets went for $25 a pop). He said that when he wraps up the final accounting before year’s end, the play will be within $500 of breaking even. He plans to shorten the first act a bit and bring the production back in late spring or early summer -- unless someone else wants to put the show on. He’s had an inquiry about it for a theater in Ontario, Canada.

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