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Fallout: The Financial Crisis

Musicals’ new tune: The villain banker

Stephen Beard Dec 26, 2008


KAI RYSSDAL: Of all the ways you’ve heard, read or thought about the fallout from the financial crisis, I’d be willing to bet this next story’s going to bring something new to your experience.

The Brits have a year-end tradition of musical shows. They’re called pantomimes — pantos for short. There are heroes and heroines. And, of course, evil villains. This year, though, there’s a more contemporary scoundrel — the financial miscreant, as Marketplace’s Stephen Beard explains.

SOUND OUTSIDE THEATER: One, two, three, four five tickets for this afternoon’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” . . .

STEPHEN BEARD: At the Courtyard Theatre in Hereford, parents and kids eagerly snap up tickets for the Christmas panto. Writer and performer Lyndsay Marples says they won’t be disappointed. The show has all the traditional elements:

LYNDSAY MARPLES: The booing of the baddy, the cheering, the hissing, and just generally joining in. It’s a big, fun party between the actors and the audience.

SOUND FROM SHOW: Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum . . . Oh, it’s the giant!

But this year’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” is a little different. The villain isn’t the giant, it’s an evil financier.

BARON WASTELAND CHARACTER: I am incredibly evil, even though I say so myself!

Baron Wasteland is his name. A speculator by trade, he’s drowning in debt on his property portfolio, so Wasteland doubles the rent on Jack’s cottage.

BARON WASTELAND: And just because this is a fairy tale, don’t think that you lot with your pathetic booing and hissing can do anything to stop me, because you can’t! Oh, no you can’t!

AUDIENCE: Oh, yes we can!!!!

In pantos across Britain this Christmas, traditional villains like wicked stepsisters and evil witches have been replaced by a new breed of miscreant — bankers bent on ruining the global economy, hedge-fund managers that bring businesses to their knees.

Lyndsay Marples says the financial crisis was the theme that panto could not ignore.

MARPLES: Well, it was something that everyone’s talking about. And pantomime very much reflects the current situation that people are in. There’s also a sense of, We’re all in this together.

The crisis has also inspired “CRUNCH: The Musical,” due to open in London early next year. The show is currently in rehearsal.

When the corporate race is run,
You’re logging off and your deals are done,
You’ll meet your maker with a funded pension. Yeah.

Dom Hartley is a former financial journalist. He actually began writing the show before the crunch. He and his lyricist set out to satirize the boom.

DOM HARTLEY: Everybody we knew was obsessed with what they were doing at work, how much they were earning, the house they were living in, the car they were driving. And we thought, We have got to somehow encapsulate all of this in a musical.

Once the crunch began, Dom and his partner found fresh inspiration.

SOUND FROM “CRUNCH”: By leveraging the infrastructure, modernizing knowledge cultlure, this benchmark will become the paradigm.

This number is entitled “Corporate Fraud”. It lampoons the jargon at the heart of the crisis. The language bankers used to disguise the rubbish they were packaging up and selling around the world.

SONG FROM “CRUNCH”: Debt, loan, income vehicle, mortgage debenture, fund.

In the current climate a cast of singing and dancing financial miscreants may be too much for some. Or it may be the best — the only way — to get some fun out of the credit crunch.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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