Money Money Money Money, MONEY! “The Lehman Trilogy” Pays Off, Thru June 2, LLD Review

By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media. (see video below)

“Buy things you don’t need with money you don’t have.” When I was offered tickets to review The Lehman Trilogy”, I thought no way am I going to miss game three of the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves playoff game to see a three hour and 20 minute play with just three actors talk about how three Bavarian Jewish brothers came to America with nothing and created businesses that led to a multi generational fortune of nearly $614 billion in assets and 25,000 employees that ultimately went bust.

I figured, I would stay until the first intermission, there are two, then I would take off to the nearest sports bar. After all, the ending is not a mystery or a secret. Does the 2008 housing market crash ring a bell. Everyone in attendance knew how the play would end before they sat down. There is no music, dancing, singing or much set design. Just wooden boxes a table, a rotating wooden floor and three guys constantly talking.


But I did stay. Through both intermissions, checking the Nugget’s score at each break wishing I was watching what appeared to be a very exciting game. But I was hooked. I stayed for every minute of this fascinating and intriguing production and the prolonged standing ovation at show’s end when one would think everyone would be rushing for the exits after such a long show. But no one did. The actors exited the stage before anyone left, including me. It was easy to see why “The Lehman Trilogy” was the winner of the 2022 Tony Award for Best Play.


The show begins with Henry Lehman, played by Matthew Boston, arriving in America in 1844 after an arduous 47 days at sea. Only a small suitcase to his name with nowhere to go and not knowing what to do. But he perseveres and opens a small clothing/dry goods store in Montgomery, Alabama with a yellow and black sign out front bearing his name. A milestone considering Jews in Europe were banned from owning land or joining unions.


Soon his brothers arrive, Emanuel Lehman, played by Sasha Roiz and Mayer Lehman, Tasso Felman. These three actors are phenomenal in telling this story. Not only do the play the parts of the three brothers but also of wives, children and other investors. You may recognize Sasha Roiz from his television roles in “Grimm”, “Suits”, “Chicago Med”, and “911”. Matthew Boston has appeared in “Law & Order”, “Blue Bloods”, “Ghost Ship” and several other television and theatre productions. Tasso Feldman, has been on “CSI: NY” he was on “The Resident” for six seasons and has appeared in numerous Broadway plays.

Together, the Lehman Brothers try to figure out how to grow the business. Cotton! they realize is the answer. With all the cotton plantations in the South and the demand for cotton in the North they figured they could buy the cotton from the plantation owners in mass and sell it at a huge profit to the industrialists in the North. They invented the middle man and it worked. Until it didn’t.

When huge fires wipe out many of Alabama’s cotton plantations the Lehman brothers step in and convince the governor to fund their bank that would in turn lend that money to rebuild what was lost and thus revive Alabama’s economy. The brothers recognize that banking/financing will be their niche that will create a fortune for them and their families. Soon it’s off to New York and Wall Street where they quickly learn to wheel and deal attracting investors and lending money to developers, entrepreneurs and anyone else they believed had the ability to repay, with interest.

The Civil War takes a huge toll on the United States, North and South. Thousands of deaths and millions in destruction. Again the Lehman Brothers Bank survives and steps in with loans to rebuild, with interest. Somewhat arranged marriages result in children that grow to join the company as board members that continue to grow the legacy of their fathers.

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The bank continues to grow until the stock market crash of 1929. This is the most dramatic part of the entire play. It’s “Black Thursday”, October 24, 1929, the first day of the stock market crash of 1929, a catastrophic decline in the stock market of the United States that immediately preceded the worldwide Great Depression. The sounds of thunderous non stop rain fill the theatre interrupted by loud gunshots of stock traders committing suicide. Those gunshots quickly morph into fireworks for a wedding celebration and 4th of July Festivities.

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Act Three begins with one of the sons, Robert’s efforts to save the bank after the crash. The bank not only survives but prospers investing in entertainment, movies, televisions, railroads, televisions and even race horses. With the advent of World War II they invest in the war machine; guns, tanks, fighter planes and all the rest. Afterward the war, with some creative marketing, the American consumer is convinced to buy, buy, buy. “Buy things you don’t need with money you don’t have.” Rich or poor, your credit will see you through. With interest of course.

The company becomes a behemoth so large and powerful it seemed invincible and immortal, or so they thought. After Robert’s death in 1969, no member of the family was involved in running the company. Up to this point, the reasons for the company’s growth were easy to understand.

While I enjoyed learning how the Lehman Brothers legacy came to be I wanted to know more about the collapse of this major financial institution. After all, they had come to the rescue of the U.S. economy on more than one occasion so why did the government allow them to fail?

In 2008, nearly 1,000 companies received bailout funds through the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). Some of the biggest bank bailout recipients included Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Other businesses like General Motors and Chrysler also received funds through TARP. So why not Lehman?

Further research revealed that Lehman was highly leveraged. This was due to the adoption of an aggressive growth strategy, as well as excessive borrowing and a risk-taking business model supported by limited equity. In the years leading up to the global financial crisis, the banking industry had been deregulated.

The dramatic fall of Lehman was due in large part to millions of risky mortgages propping up an unstable financial system. Home-buyers with mortgage payments they couldn’t afford defaulted on their loans, sending shock-waves through Wall Street and leaving those borrowers vulnerable to foreclosure.

Lehman Brothers’ 2008 bankruptcy triggered a global financial crisis, leading to financial market turmoil, credit freeze, banking system stress, and a severe global recession. The housing market was severely impacted, with subprime mortgages leading to a sharp decline in prices. Surely, exploring that aspect of story would have made for a dramatic conclusion similar the 1929 crash scene. After all, this was the final nail in the Lehman coffin.

I would have gladly stayed another 15 minutes to learn more about all that. But after the three plus hours the play rushes to that end without exploring many of those details.

Still the play is worth every penny of the ticket price and every minute of your time. In the end it still pays off handsomely, with interest of course. Go Nuggets!

The Lehman Trilogy, by Stefano Massini, the first Italian to receive a Tony Award and directed by Margot Bordelon plays the Kilstrom Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts thru June 2, 2024.