BWW Review: Benjamin Franklin Travels Through the Modern World in MONEY TALKS: THE MUSICAL
The show starts with a number called "I'm Money," in which Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton (played by a woman), and Abraham Lincoln lament that their visages have been placed on currency. The actors carry props of the appropriate bills with holes in the center for their faces. The lyrics include the lines, "People claim they worship God, but I'm their true religion."
The premise of MONEY TALKS is silly broad comedy, as Franklin decides (even though he's dead) that he might be able to help the troubled U.S. in his state as a $100 bill. Thus starts his journey, with each recipient grabbing his hand and taking him with them.
Throughout the 90-minute musical, while wearing a gorgeous brocade period jacket that has an image of a $100 bill across the back (I want one of these jackets), Franklin recites many of his famous sayings and tries to get his temporary owners to make better choices. Of course, they can't actually hear him because...um...he's a $100 bill. And some of the sayings used aren't his own. For example, one is an altered Mark Twain quote: "Politicians are like diapers. They should be changed frequently and for the same reason."
Before the show's over, Franklin ends up in a variety of places, such as a strip club, a poker tournament, a purse, a scam church bucket, and a hair salon run by a straight guy from Queens who pretends to be a gay Frenchman.
The greed and money woes in the scenes are predictable, and there's nothing particularly enlightening about what Franklin or the other characters say. But it's entertaining to watch the founding father try to navigate through the modern world. In one scene, he does impersonations of some of our more modern presidents, reciting their most infamous quotes such as George W. Bush's "Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning?'" Actor Ralph Byers' Bill Clinton impression for "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" is particularly good. The writers poke fun at Trump, too, but usually indirectly.
Byers, who is a convincing Franklin, is the only actor of the cast of four who gets to play the same character through the entire musical. Sandra DeNise, Brennan Caldwell, and George Merrick all play a host of roles. I lost track of the number of bad wigs they wore. Three of the cast members, including Byers, have appeared on Broadway, and they all do a respectable job with the material, which requires lightning fast character changes as directed by Michael Chase Gosselin.
Most notable in the score is the funny song, "The Barber of Queens," and the pretty ballad "I'm Chasing a Dream."
I was surprised that a show in such a small venue as The Davenport Theatre would include clever projections, such as a taxi with a cartoon image of Franklin in the backseat. These added a great deal to the otherwise modest production.
MONEY TALKS continues at The Davenport Theatre at 354 West 45th Street through early September and opens on July 23, 2017. It runs at 7:30 on Mondays and Tuesdays, Thursdays at 3:00 and 7:30, Fridays at 8:30, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:30, and Sundays at 3:00. Ticket prices are $25, $49.75, $79.75 and $100 for Franklin VIP Tickets.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniels