by Jody Key — Managing Editor — Production Photo Credits: Greg Mooney
ATLANTA, GA – June 6, 2022 – I remember seeing the original TRADING PLACES back in 1983. I was 17 and went to see it with my Dad. It’s become a favorite that I’ve watched with my own children over the years, so I was excited to see what this new musical, with a book by Thomas Lennon, music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Micheal Weiner, and direction by the incomparable Tony-winning director, Kenny Leon, had in store.
The production didn’t disappoint and was a fresh new look at a 39-year-old standard. The musical, still set in 1983, brought the work into the 21st century through a new lens. Director Kenny Leon states, “I’m always looking for what makes [a film] stageworthy or what makes it want to sing. I don’t believe in taking a movie and putting it on stage.” (source: playbill article by Sally Henry Fuller). Personally, I like that idea as I’m typically not a huge fan of film to musical adaptions, but this one was very well done. As a result, some tweaks were made, including the casting of Billie Ray Valentine as an African-American Woman and Ophelia as a gay, Latine drag queen. Other elements were also enhanced, including the character development of Penelope and Clarence Beeks. While there were reimaginings, several things remained the same to the delight of lovers of the movie, including dialogue and the basic storyline. I even discovered a fun Easter egg in the portraits of the Heritage Club.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, set in Philadelphia, 1983, Wall Street Moguls Mortimer and Randolph Duke have wagered a bet concerning nature vs. nurture and conspire to switch places between two unsuspecting pawns: Louis Winthrope III, the overindulged and overprivileged manager of the Duke’s firm, and street hustler Billie Ray Valentine, a downtrodden product of the projects doing what she can to scrape by. What ensues is each character experiencing a taste of each other’s lives, and learning something about themselves in the process. When Winthrope and Valentine discover what the Dukes have done to them, they conspire to ruin the lives of their adversaries.
As is to be expected, this Alliance production was first-rate, with stunning sets, killer vocals, amazing acting and choreography, and laugh-out-loud humor. Kudos to the entire production team for putting together a stellar show, but especially to set designer Beowulf Borritt for his wildly imaginative and glitzy (I love some bling!!) set design.
Aneesa Folds was superb as Billie Ray Valentine. She took an iconic Eddie Murphy character and made it her own. As an added bonus, her vocals were sublime! Bryce Pinkham as Louis Winthorpe III also did Dan Akroyd’s character justice, with just the right amount of naive snobbery, his comedic timing made him a character audiences grow to love.
Two characters that I was delighted to see expanded upon were Penelope, played by McKenzie Kurtz, and Beeks, played by Josh Lamon. Each had a number that expanded on their backstories and provided additional character development. Mckenzie Kurtz was the consummate Penelope, conflicted between her upbringing to be the perfect wife and longing to be more. Josh Lamon was hilarious as Beeks in his show-stopping exposition number, breaking both the 4th and, as he explains 5th wall–which is talking back to the characters on stage while off stage in the audience.
Other Key-noteworthy performances include Don Stephenson as Coleman, Lenny Wolpe as Randolph Duke, and Mark Kudish as Mortimer Duke. All three have impressive Broadway resumes, and it shows.
TRADING PLACES is Speakeysie BRAVO Recommended and plays at the Alliance Theatre Coca-Cola Stage through June 26th. Get your tickets at https://my.alliancetheatre.org/overview/132751 and enjoy the show!!