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Off-Off-Broadway Review

The Big Bank

The Big Bank
Photo Source: Tim Knox
Ladies and gentlemen, I announce, with considerable pleasure, the return of the big, sassy, satirical musical comedy. The Seligmann brothers' "The Big Bank" apparently has been kicking around since the mid-'90s, but it took the housing bubble and resulting mortgage crisis to get producers interested. That economic fiasco may have been a disaster, but it can no longer be called entirely evil, if it gave us "The Big Bank."

In Brooklyn, The Big Bank, a subsidiary of The Bigger Bank, a subsidiary of The Biggest Bank, is staffed by the Boss (Klea Blackhurst) and five suits right out of "How to Succeed." They delight in foreclosure. "We repossess/ We take the things you used to own/ Your pain is our gain," they exult, while stepping to Daniel Haley's witty choreography. The Boss is a musical-comedy villainess for the ages, one who giggles at the thought of castration. Blackhurst has always modeled herself on Ethel Merman, but here she's giving an exuberant, top-banana musical-comedy performance that would do Bert Lahr or Phil Silvers proud. She has timing and lungs. When she does nothing but scat nonsense syllables for a few bars in the second act, the audience goes wild with delight. Not for the first time in the evening, the applause starts in the middle of the number.

The plot hinges on two foreclosures. It seems the fifth suit, Stuart (Stacey Todd Holt), has the soul of a poet and isn't cut out for corporate avarice. So when asked to shut down the Montague Street florist shop owned by Iris (Piper Goodeye), he not only buckles but falls in love with his victim. He's also got his unwilling hooks in the Radical Marxist Ecology Quarterly Journal Review, run by Clarence (Daniel Marcus, ably doing a Nathan Lane), whose 11-year-old daughter Parsley (Carly Rose Sonenclar) is the sort of scarily precocious tot who should be annoying but, in Sonenclar's adorable and accomplished hands, is not. Relax, you'll get a happy ending, and it's a clean show—you can take the kids.

Let's nitpick: The Seligmanns' score, while perfectly serviceable and rife with funny comic numbers, has an establishing song for Iris that sounds too much like "Fire and Rain" and a love duet, "Are We in Love?", that's as generic as its title. One plot strand has Clarence trying to bomb the bank, which is meant to be funny but isn't; the authors need to set it up better. They also need to better conceal a plot surprise at the curtain that we see coming for an act and a half.

These flaws are largely papered over by David Glenn Armstrong's clever direction, and by a cast that knows a thing or two about what made the classic mid-century comic musicals comic. "The Big Bank" is 90 percent giddy musical-comedy fun. With banks now charging for debit card use, it's more relevant than ever.

Self-presented as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Theatre at St. Clements, 423 W. 46th St., NYC. Sept. 30-Oct. 4. Remaining performances: Sat., Oct. 1, 2 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 2, 3 p.m.; Mon., Oct. 3, 9 p.m.; Tue., Oct. 4, 1 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.nymf.org. Casting by Michael Cassara Casting.

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