Sunday, October 24, 2010

Review of "How to Succeed in Business"

Frank Loesser has penned some of the most memorable and melodic scores in Broadway history, including Where’s Charley, Guys and Dolls, and his 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning gem, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, now receiving a spirited production at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT.

The satirical look at big business centers around J. Pierpont Finch, a window washer who, guided by the precepts in his handy guide, aptly titled "How to Succeed in Business," slowly rises to the top of the corporate ladder. The book of the musical is well-crafted, playful, and spiced with some humorous nostalgic references.

Brian Sears stars as Finch, but lacks the charisma and ingratiating personality necessary for the character to work. This is not to say that Sears is not a talented individual with a solid singing voice, but instead of rooting for him on his meteoric climb to the top there is more a feeling of indifference. The romantic subplot between Sears and Rosemary Pilkington, played with self-assured aplomb by a beautifully appealing Natalie Bradshaw, is listless and lacks any chemistry.

This is truly unfortunate since the entire supporting cast is superb, among them Erin Maguire as the sassy secretary, Smitty; Nicolette Hart as the sexy bombshell, Hedy LaRue; Tom Deckman as the scheming momma’s boy, Bud Frump; and Ronn Carroll as the boisterous president of World Wide Wickets, J.B. Biggley.

Director Greg Ganakas molds the large cast into a cohesive unit, beautifully incorporating Adrian Jones’ multi-functioning set into the flow. Jones’ scenic design deserves a special nod as they evoke a cool 1960’s modernist style that never overpowers the show. My one small complaint deals with the pacing of the production. At times it seemed a half step slow, missing a certain sense of liveliness.

Choreographer Kelli Barclay expertly maximizes the small space of the Goodspeed stage with wonderfully satisfying results. Her added flourishes to “Coffee Break,” for example, are inventive and highly rewarding.

Whatever the shortcomings of How to Succeed, and don’t let me give you the impression that the musical is not first-rate entertainment, there is always the Frank Loesser score where every song is a gem. From the opening notes of the title song to the comical duet of “The Company Way,” the flirtatious “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” the rah rah of “Grand Old Ivy,” Finch’s self-centered and mischievous ode to himself “I Believe in You,” as well as the rousing “Brotherhood of Man," my foot didn’t stop tapping during the entire show.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 28th.

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