Breaking Baz: Sam Mendes Tony-Award Winning ‘The Lehman Trilogy’ Makes Fourth Return To London Stage After Hit Drama Plays To Half A Million Worldwide Audience

Sam Mendes is bringing back his acclaimed, Tony Award-winning blockbuster production of The Lehman Trilogy for a fourth run in London.

It’s quite a thing to bring the play, considered a modern classic, back into central London when it just played a 16-week season at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, running until May of last year.

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“There’s an enormous appetite for the play, even more so because its been on screen in cinemas via NT Live,” noted Caro Newling who runs the theater division of  All3Media-owned Neal Street Productions, founded by Newling, Mendes, and Pippa Harris.

The new production, produced by the National Theatre and Neal Street, will return to that same Gillian Lynne stage for a limited 14-week slot from September 24 through January 5, 2025. It will be featuring the incredible rotating glass-box scenic design created by Es Devlin, dynamic videos designed by Luke Halls, and stunning lighting design by Jon Clark.

Actors John Heffernan, Aaron Krohn, and Howard W. Overshown will portray the original Lehman brothers – Henry, Mayer and Emanuel- who arrived in New York from Bavaria in 1844 and went on to found financial behemoth Lehman Brothers. They’re currently playing those roles at San Francisco’s Toni Rembe Theater through June 23.

(l/r) Howard W. Overshown, Aaron Krohn (center) and John Heffernan.Photo by Kevin Berne.
(l/r) Howard W. Overshown, Aaron Krohn (center) and John Heffernan.Photo by Kevin Berne.

The Lehman Trilogy, which originally opened at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre in 2018, has been seen by a worldwide audience of over half a million. That includes a transfer from the NT to the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre, with original stars Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley and Ben Miles; an Off-Broadway run at the Park Armory, followed by a production on Broadway that was shut after four preview performances because of the coronavirus pandemic. It returned, triumphantly, to the Nederlander in March 2022, where it won five Tony trophies.

When it played the Gilllian Lynne last year, John Kerry, then President Joe Biden’s special climate envoy, was seated in front of me, engrossed as thespians Michael Balalogun, Hadley Fraser, and Nigel Lindsay brought the Lehman siblings and 160 other characters to life in a feat of theatrical magic.

During the interval, Kerry declared the show, “extraordinary. It’s riveting.”

Michael Balogun,Nigel Lindsay and Hadley Fraser take their bows in The Lehman Trilogy.
Michael Balogun,Nigel Lindsay and Hadley Fraser take their bows in The Lehman Trilogy.

Newling said that, ”Each time, we see it chimes with audiences.”

The producer continued: “It never feels that it isn’t relevant. It can be about the 2008 financial crash; but it’s also a big story about three brothers who come to a country leaving everything they know behind them – everything they’ve ever known culturally. They have to step into a new world and start again, basically from a broom cupboard.”

It resonates, Newling said, “because it’s a family drama, a multiple generational story, and it’s incredibly moving. The brothers spawned an empire,” and their heirs lost it.

“What family doesn’t, somewhere along the line, have a history whereby somebody moved to a new country and started another life. That really does chime, doesn’t it?,” Newling reasoned.

The Lehman Trilogy started out as an epic poem written by Italian playwright and actor Stefano Massini.

Using a literal English translation by Marella Cheeseman, Ben Powers, commissioned by Neal Street, penned a new version of Massini’s play, with Mendes giving it directorial heft and structure.

The creatives continued developing the play at the National Theatre’s workshop studio. Those early experiments were good enough for the National’s artistic director, Rufus Norris, to green light an initial long run in the Lyttelton Theatre.

“Off it went into the stratosphere,“ said Newling of that first production. “I think we thought it would just do a good run at the Lyttelton and that would be great. And six years later, we’re having a conversation about it playing its fourth iteration in London. Blimey!” Newling exclaimed.

John Heffernan, Aaron Krohn and Howard W. Overshown in ‘The Lehman Trilogy’. Photo by Kevin Berne
John Heffernan, Aaron Krohn and Howard W. Overshown in ‘The Lehman Trilogy’. Photo by Kevin Berne

Heffernan’s A Lehman Trilogy is a newbie when compared to Krohn and Overshown, who have been associated with the show for over four years, having understudied and played roles in New York.

They embarked on an international tour first playing Sydney’s Theatre Royal. The company in Australia included renowned U.K. actor Adrian Schiller (The Last Kingdom), who played Henry Lehman.

Schiller was to have continued the tour in San Francisco, but he died suddenly at age 60 in April.

Heffernan was ending a run in Marius von Mayenburg’s play Nachtland at the Young Vic when he was tapped with taking over as Henry in San Francisco.

“It all happened unexpectedly, with the sad passing of Adrian halfway through the tour,” said Heffernan.

The Brit rehearsed late April into early May with Krohn and Overshown. “Two weeks to learn the whole shebang. It was quite hairy,” said Heffernan, who’d not taken over a role before.

In recent years, he has become a West End favorite, having played star roles in Much Ado About NothingEdward II, and a variety of other roles at the National, and the play Oppenheimer for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also appeared for the RSC as Oswald in Trevor Nunn’s legendary production of King Lear, which starred a magnificent Ian McKellen in the title role. Appearances on TV include: A Gentleman in Moscow and The Crown.

Heffernan said that he saw Simon Russell Beale originate the role of Henry Lehman at the National, but he will bring his own sensibility to the part. “They’re not carbon copy performances,” he said.

He noted that Henry Lehman as a character doesn’t last long on the page, but he wears lots of different hats in the play, including that of Emanuel Lehman’s son, Philip, from cradle to grave.

“You feel as if you’re using every muscle and every brain cell in your body,” he said.

Chuckling, he added, “It’s quite a work out. I don’t know any other play that gives you that, outside of Shakespeare, in my experience. It feels akin to that.

“You’ve got to be in the moment the whole time … it has a relentlessness to it, which mirrors the Lehman’s fortunes of its exponential growth before, of course, the crash. As an actor, once you’re on that freight train, it goes. It’s very exciting,’ he said with zest over the telephone from San Francisco.

His fellow actors have been riding that train for some time.

Krohn and Overshown began their association with Mendes long before they joined The Lehman Trilogy family.

They both participated in various segments of the mammoth The Bridge Project season of plays that Mendes produced with the Old Vic and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Krohn also featured in the Mendes production of Cabaret at Studio 54.

The two Americans go way, way back. They both played parts in Daniel Sullivan’s 2005 Broadway production of Julius Caesar, led by Denzel Washington.

But the memory of getting to mix up the classics with Mendes and The Bridge Project at the Old Vic and BAM has stayed with him. He told me that doing those plays were not something for an American actor “who’s not a celebrity, to think that they’ll necessarily get to do” in London,” and certainly not to appear “in the West End in another.”

Even so, notwithstanding the small roles at the Old Vic in The Bridge Project, Krohn said that he considers The Lehman Trilogy at the Gillian Lynne to be his “proper” W.End debut.

I have an extensive collection of Playbills crammed into my basement study in London, and following our conversation, I found ones for the aforementioned Julius Caesar, the Lincoln Center Theater production of Tom Stoppard’s three-part The Coast of Utopia, Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention , director Jack O’Brien’s production of MacbethSummer: The Donna Summer Musical, and Cabaret, all of which Krohn had roles in.

Aaron Krohn in ‘The Legman Trilogy’. Photo by Kevin Berne
Aaron Krohn in ‘The Legman Trilogy’. Photo by Kevin Berne

Similarly, I remembered Overshown’s ensemble performance in Julius Caesar, and in Kenny Leon’s revival of Charles Fuller’s A Soldier’s Play.

That’s what a lifetime of going to the theater does. You end up peering into the careers of thousands of actors. You try and replay the performances in your head, though not all at once!

Due to, well, you know, deadlines, I didn’t get to the opportunity to link up directly with Overshown.

However, he kindly responded to questions that were posted to him via the National Theatre.

The actor wrote that he first saw the show in NY when it was at the Armory, ”and instantly fell in love with it. I then had the pleasure of being the understudy to Adrian Lester, when the show came to Broadway. After weeks of enjoying, watching the show every night, I was handed the role of Emanuel, and had the privilege of performing with Simon Russell Beale and Adam Godley. I still remember my first week, working on the show with them, and Adam officially welcoming me to the Lehman brotherhood. Since then, I had the great honor of working with Adrian Schiller and Aaron Krohn on The Lehman Trilogy in Sydney, Australia. Sadly, Adrian passed away after our time in Sydney. And now, John Heffernan has taken over the role of Henry Lehman. The chemistry between the three of us, John, Aaron, and myself, is incredible. I look forward to bringing our version to London and continuing this magical journey.”

Mendes, in a statement released to the NT, observed that over seven years, the production has been enjoyed on three continents and on Broadway, and is returning to the West End again. “This feels like a tribute to everyone who believed in it and collaborated in its making.”

The director’s two recent London shows, Jez Butterworth’s The Hills of California and The Motive and the Cue, are both headed to Broadway.

The Hills of California begins previewing at the Broadhurst Theatre on September 11 with an official opening night on September 29. Newling acknowledged that Butterworth and Mendes would have their own thoughts of what they want to “revisit” in the production before it arrives in NYC, adding that, “Broadway will have its own version,” of the play that was produced by Neal Street and Sonia Friedman Productions.

Meanwhile, Mark Gatis, Johnny Flynn and Tuppence Middleton, who play John Gielgud, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor in The Motive and the Cue, about when John Gielgud directed Richard Burton in Hamlet on Broadway, have cleared their schedules to repeat those roles in NYC at a Shubert theater in the spring.

Mark Gatis, Tuppence Middleton and Johnny Flynn in ‘The Motive and the Cue’. Photo Baz Bamigboye/<em>Deadline</em>
Mark Gatis, Tuppence Middleton and Johnny Flynn in ‘The Motive and the Cue’. Photo Baz Bamigboye/Deadline

Gatis won the best actor Olivier Award for his sublime portrait of Gielgud in the NT and Neal Street production.

“By, god, that’s a Broadway play,” Newling enthused.

By Jove, she ain’t wrong.


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