Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

So, the plan was for Monday entries to be all about music, photography and video, but since I got out to see ‘How to Succeed’ this weekend, I thought I’d try writing a review! So here, for your reading pleasure:

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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

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Like all aspects of pop culture, Broadway shows 
are always coming in and out of style. While just a few years ago edgy, rock-grunge musicals, à la Rent, Spring Awakening and American Idiot, were all the rage, the trend seems to have re-geared in an entirely unexpected direction. The demand for cutting-edge has been replaced with a call for nostalgia. A slew of revivals (and a few originals) set in and between the roaring twenties (Anything Goes) and the corporate world of the sixties (Promises Promises) have taken the Great White Way by storm, filling NYC with the sound of show-stopping tap numbers, upbeat tunes and fabulously cheesy one-liners. The plots and time periods obviously vary, but they all share a delightful light-heartedness and abound with the charms of yesteryear.

The latest of these shows to come along is How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a revival featuring former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch. The show originally debuted in 1961, and like many of its contemporaries has begun to show some age. When Finch’s love interest Rosemary, played by a time-period-appropriately cheeky Rose Hemingway, sings about her dreams of keeping an emotionally-distant husband’s dinner warm as he climbs the corporate ladder, more than a few pairs of eyebrows are bound to shoot upward.

But nonetheless, the vibrant cast attempts to blow off the dust with infectious zeal. Daniel Radcliffe proves himself a capable leading man with an adequate singing voice, impressive dance moves, and the pairing of a remarkably enthusiastic presence and lovable grin. He is at every moment wide-eyed, bristling with an energy and earnestness that threatens to distract from the character itself. But this sort of vigor and projection of innocence may be exactly what is required in order for the audience to fall in love with the otherwise duplicitous Finch. Impressive too are his comedic chops, as evident whenever he, spotlit, shares with the audience his knowing, impetuous grin to signal that his latest scheme has pulled through.

John Larroquette secures a lot of laughs as Finch’s amiable yet morally dubious boss, whom we know the unstoppable Finch must eventually succeed. While he does project presence, his limited theater experience is evident; too often he dissolves into mumbling or attempts to use subtleties that work for the TV screen but not for the stage. Rose Hemingway is appropriately cute and feisty, bringing strength and sympathy to a character that could easily be scoffed at by the modern American woman. Tammy Blanchard is entertaining as wobbly tart-with-a-heart Hedy La Rue, and Christopher J Hanke manages to make us both love yet not root for Finch’s bumbling nemesis Bud Frump.

Derek Mclane’s set design is very reminiscent of recent productions of Bye Bye Birdie, Promises Promises (both directed and choreographed by Robert Ashford), and the short-lived 9 to 5; a cubic style that suggests a certain type of set instead of actually having the suggested set present. Why these productions find so much appeal in spending equal amounts of money on sets that pretend to be one thing, instead of building the actual thing, is a bit perplexing. Perhaps the style’s popularity derives from its ability to lend a modern edge to otherwise dated scripts.

Catherine Zuber’s chromatic outfits liven up an otherwise metallic backdrop, chock-full of sleek suits and twirly skirts. Ashford’s choreography is impressive and lively, although it’s been pointed out in other reviews that each number tries a little too hard to be a showstopper (of which How To Succeed really possesses only one; the effervescent ‘Brotherhood of Man’.)

Although constrained by its age, this production of ‘How To Succeed’ navigates through the script’s shortcomings with aplomb, and an irresistibly charming Radcliffe keeps the spark alive throughout the performance. How the show will fare without his star power remains to be seen (although with Glee’s Darren Criss and The Jonas Brothers‘ Nick Jonas lined up as replacements, I’d wager fairly well), but if you’re in search of a little animated, frolicsome entertainment, ‘How To Succeed‘ is certainly worth your time.

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4 thoughts on “Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

  1. Enjoyed your review. It was spot on, including the set design. I hadn’t realized it looked so familiar until you pointed it out. Interesting to include comments on the set and costume. I do think that lady with the ridiculously hight voice deserved some props!

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