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“Ponzi!” – a stage reading & musical at the Nannie J. Lee Center in Alexandria, Va

April 21, 2019

Why do people believe in a con man? Sounds like a debate for a philosophy or psych class, but such complex questions go straight to the heart of this fledgling musical.

The world premiere of Ponzi! chronicles the corrupt financial schemes of Carlo Ponzi, an Italian-American whose fraudulent investment practices scandalized Americans in the early part of the 20th century.  Just after World War I, the notorious “bushel basket millionaire” was indicted and found guilty of running a bogus operation in which funds were never actually invested to produce the huge financial returns he advertised.

Carlo Ponzi, an Italian-American

To pull off this devious contrivance, Ponzi paid off his first-tier clientele with funds provided by new unsuspecting investors.  All this despite his public claim that he was exploiting exchange rates through the conversion of international postal coupons.  And, lo, the term “Ponzi scheme” was born.

Nearly a century after Ponzi’s Massachusetts’ trial, composer and lyricist Lois Cecsarini has written a new musical with the charismatic crook at its center.  As a former Foreign Service officer with the State Department, the Alexandria resident listened to an audiobook about the life of Ponzi and later discovered his autobiography.  Inspired she wrote a show about the notorious swindler and those who adored him.  Why, the former diplomat wondered, did people fall for this early version of Bernie Madoff by turning him into a folk hero?  And how, given Ponzi’s compelling story paralleling the present political climate of corruption, voter suppression, unrest on the southern border, conflicts with the media, and, yes, Russian influence, could any composer resist?

Playwright Lois Cecsarini (center in green sweater) with the cast of Ponzi – photo courtesy of Lois Cecsarini

Fast forward to a year later, Cecsarini has written over a dozen clever songs set to a full script with fifteen talented local singer-actors and an experienced director poised to present a free staged reading of Ponzi!  Theatre-goers will enjoy music ranging from show tunes to tango with flourishes reminiscent of a church choir.

“Realizing the dream of bringing this show to life for a live audience has been both challenging and rewarding,” said Cecsarini, who found inspiration for her previous musicals from a range of experiences, including her service in Middle Eastern and African conflict zones.

“There is no question that it takes a village to make a musical, and I’m grateful to all who have helped make the Ponzi! project happen.  Of course, my hope is that the future of Ponzi! will include a stop on Broadway.  But for now, I can’t wait for our first audience here in the DMV to enjoy the show.  It is our hope they’ll carry both its tunes and its message home,” she explained.

The show tells the story of Ponzi’s relationships among the Boston populace who for different reasons supported and defended the man later arrested for his illegal activities.  In an era when public discourse so often centers on what is true and what is false, whom to trust, and what to believe, the musical couldn’t be more timely.

A one-night-only staged reading of Ponzi! directed by Bridget Grace will take place on Saturday, May 4 at 2pm.  The location is the Kauffman Auditorium at the Nannie J. Lee Center at 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria, Virginia 22314.  There is no charge for admission.  A free-will donation will be collected for local charities. Lois Cecsarini contact 571-239-0428

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