Monday, May 2, 2011

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre

Let's get the big question out of the way.    Yes, the young movie star can sing and dance.    Now that's out of the way, on to the review.

The 50th anniversary revival of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is a confection of Mad Men inspired early '60's nostalgia that still provides a satisfying evening of theater.    Filled with the rousing and infectious music and lyrics of Frank Loesser and the wit and good humored bite of Abe Burrows, Jake Weinstock and Willie Gilbert's book, audiences at the Al Hirschfeld Theater are quite rightly cheering along the spectacular rise of the crafty and charming J. Pierrepont Finch.  Is the show dated?   Yes and no.   The satirical look at the corporate ladder and the ways in which our ambitious young hero climbs it are as relevant today as they were when the show opened in October 1961.    Where the story creaks with age is in its depiction of the female characters.   The women are aspiring to climb out of the corporate secretarial pool by marrying well.    Yet,  despite the cringes that may bring forth in a 21st century audience, the exuberance and commitment of the performers to their characters' goals in the musical allow said 21st century audience to accept the early '60's mindset and simply enjoy a delightful evening of musical theater.

Ably directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, How To Succeed...  embraces its time period without a wink or nod to its proceedings.   Mr Ashford takes the show as is, allowing the original book and story to survive intact.   The Thespian believes that this is an intelligent approach.   There has been an occasional trend to update books of musicals that are considered dated, yet Mr. Ashford proves that allowing the show to be viewed on its own merits does not mean that we are viewing a museum piece.   Mr. Ashford guides his cast well and with his very athletic choreography proves that he knows how to stage musical numbers in such a fashion that his audiences will truly understand how a show-stopper really is supposed to be staged.

Catherine Zuber's costumes combined with Derek McLane's scenic design and Howell Binkley's lighting design brighten the world of the World Wide Wicket Company placing a bold stamp that this a show that is celebratory of its hero and his rise through the corporate ranks.   Musical direction is rousing under the direction of David Chase and his 14 member orchestra.

The ensemble is universally wonderful and given that this is one of those musicals in which just about every member of the chorus gets a small role there is not a weak link in the bunch.    Outstanding support is given by Rob Bartlett in the dual roles of Mr. Twimble, the 25 year proud head of the mail room and Wally Womper the Chairman of the Board of World Wide Wicket Company.   Mary Faber provides great support as the best friend in the secretarial pool, Smitty.   Ellen Harvey brings down the house with her vocal talent and iron hand as the executive secretary Miss Jones.  

Tammy Blanchard takes the dim bombshell role of Hedy La Rue and gives her a brassy depth.   Ms. Blanchard's Hedy is not an airhead bimbo, but a woman well aware that her ticket out of the cigarette girl business is the back rung of the corporate ladder.    As the nemesis of our hero, the nepotism-with-pride Bud Frump, Christopher J. Hanke is appropriately a hissable villain.   As the love interest, Rosemary Pilkington, Rose Hemingway, is confident with great stage presence.   The only fault The Thespian had in her performance was wishing to see her ambitions for a corporate husband soften a little bit faster to match how Finch realizes that his ambitions have hit a roadblock in his realization that he has fallen love, which is not on the program for his corporate goals.

Making his Broadway debut, John Larroquette is clearly enjoying portraying J. B. Biggley, the CEO of the World Wide Wicket Company.   At turns corporate and clown, Mr. Larroquette embraces his character's eccentricities  providing an absolutely delightful performance.    Mr. Larroquette literally towers over his co-star and in some very clever choregraphy which acknowledges the height difference shows himself a game hoofer upon the boards.

And as for that co-star, what a musical debut.   Daniel Radcliffe amazed audiences on Broadway and the West End a few years ago in his dramatic stage debut as the troubled Alan in Equus.  Here, Mr. Radcliffe proves his versatility by taking on the role of J. Pierrepont Finch, which requires him to dominate the stage for the majority of the evening.   His singing and dancing lessons have paid off.  Is he the most accomplished trained voice?  No, but his singing voice is pleasant and capable of handing the vocal demands put upon him.    As for his dancing, what Mr. Ashford has wrought from his star is nothing short of amazing as he tackles the complex and athletic choreography ably supported by the entire company.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is rousing good evening of theater.   You may attend to see the "stars" yet, The Thespian guarantees you will leave with a smile, a light step and the infectious 11:00 number "Brotherhood of Man" humming in your head.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on Broadway.    For Tickets and additional performance information please visit

1 comment:

  1. John Larroquette won Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his role as J.B. Biggley in How To Succeed Without Really Trying at the 2011 Tony Awards on June 12, 2011.