Saturday, April 2, 2011

Succeeding in Spades


Radcliffe and Larroquette in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (photo by Ari Mintz)

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert

Lyrics and music by Frank Loesser

Directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, Tammy Blanchard, Christopher J. Hanke, Mary Faber, Ellen Harvey, Rose Hemingway, Michael Park

Performances began February 26, 2011

Al Hirschfeld Theatre

302 West 45th Street

Celebrating the golden anniversary of its premiere, Frank Loesser’s classic musical How to Succeed in Business Without Trying returns for its second Broadway revival, following the fitfully entertaining 1995 production starring Matthew Broderick and then little-known actress Megan Mullally. Currently Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, sings and dances in Rob Ashford’s glittery staging, which satisfies like good old-fashioned Broadway musicals should.

Radcliffe is window washer J. Pierrepont Finch, whose how-to business book (narrated by none other than Anderson Cooper, who takes over from Walter Cronkite in previous productions) lets him climb the corporate ladder in no time, becoming a junior executive under the wing of World Wide Wickets president J.B. Biggley (a snarkily funny John Larroquette), and catching the eye—and heart—of secretary Rosemary (a smashing Broadway debut by Rose Hemingway).

Finch’s remarkable rise mirrors the show’s jaundiced, acidic look at the corporate world, even if some of the book’s jokes are now dated groaners. That Ashford has kept the story and songs as is makes for some uncomfortable moments, since the women are either secretaries or dutiful homemakers whose husbands are out there succeeding or failing in business, trying or not.

How to Succeed—so obviously of its time in its winking wit and Loesser’s tuneful songs—may be more Mad Men-inspired work from Ashford (who helmed the similarly early ’60s-themed Promises Promises last season), but I’ve never seen that show, so I can’t comment. In any case, Derek McLane’s gargantuan set of interlocking cubes looks like honeycombs in an imposing beehive, certainly befitting this insular world of backstabbers within a largely thriving community. Catherine Zuber’s bold period costumes and Howell Binkley’s masterly lighting design give the production added visual zest.

Ashford’s distinctive flair for physically demanding choreography is watchable even when the dance steps don’t always mesh with the songs, like his staging the tongue-in-cheek “Coffee Break” with one employee getting the last cup o’joe as the rest fight their way to swipe it away. The rah-rah “Grand Old Ivy” weirdly brings on dancers in old-time football uniforms to recreate a game with Finch and Biggley. Even the infectious “Brotherhood of Men,” while far too assiduous in its overworked moves, nevertheless is a boisterous and blissful finale.

Happily, Ashford’s choreographic busyness neither distracts nor detracts from the material, and the inspired performers follow suit. Christopher J. Hanke’s inept villain Bud Frump, the boss’ nephew, is a terrific comic foil, while Tammy Blanchard’s Hedy LaRue is a voluptuously irresistible dame. Jane Faber’s secretary Smitty, Ellen Harvey’s executive assistant Miss Jones and Michael Park’s manager Bert Bratt richly enliven stock parts comedically and musically.

John Larroquette is a sensational Biggley who’s both charismatic and hilarious, and the same goes for Rose Hemingway, whose Rosemary—meltingly lovely and resolute—does the pre-feminist anthem “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” perfectly, i.e., without irony or campiness.

Not a natural singer or dancer, the 19-year-old Radcliffe hoofs and warbles effectively just the same; that he’s an accomplished stage actor—as anyone who saw Equus on Broadway knows—makes him a perfect Finch. Happily, Radcliffe’s success helps How to…succeed once again.

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