Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review of "How to Succeed in Business"

The question that most theater-goers want answered this Broadway season is can Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe sing and dance? Radcliffe, starring in a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, does display a serviceable singing voice and, especially in the musical’s climatic production number, “The Brotherhood of Man,” demonstrates he can hold his own with more seasoned dancers. However, the more important question is can the young actor shoulder the responsibility for propping up a big time Broadway musical comedy. Sadly, the answer is no. The revival of Frank Loesser’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic falls flat, primarily because of Racliffe’s stilted performance as J. Pierpont Finch. Instead of a wily, charming rascal, scheming to quickly climb the corporate ladder, we get a young, too-eager-to-please lad almost apologetically moving up the executive ranks of the World Wide Wicket corporation. Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter fan, but this production was not the appropriate showcase for his talents.

Now let me stop my review for just a moment. If you a) excitably want to see Daniel Radcliffe live and b) haven’t been to many Broadway musicals in your lifetime then you might, indeed, be entertained by the show just like the hundreds of high school students—many from Wisconsin--in the mezzanine the night I saw the production. For those of you in this category, stop reading now and go to or some other discount ticket site to purchase tickets. If you are not a Harry Potter fan or attend New York theater on a regular basis, then read on…

Radcliffe is only part of the problem for this sometimes misguided production. Another huge drawback is the casting of John Larroquette as World Wide Wicket President, J.B. Biggley. Biggley is normally portrayed as the straight man, playing off the other characters to humorous effect, but Larroquette, an award winning comedic actor, becomes more a buffoon in the revival as opposed to a pompous man of industry—there is a big difference. This undersells his portrayal while at the same time diverting more attention on him during his scenes.

I don’t totally fault Larroquette, but the Director/Choreographer, Rob Asford. His vision for the musical undermines its very essence, primarily with Radcliffe and Larroquette. As choreographer he creates too much busyness in scenes seemingly to overly dress-up a number or not trusting the material as written or both. This is exemplified in the First Act duet, “The Company Way,” set in the World Wide Wicket mailroom. Instead of Radcliffe’s Finch and Rob Bartlett’s Mr. Twimble just warbling through this very funny song, Ashford has the two prancing about the stage while they stamp envelopes, throw packages, and maneuver through rolling mail carts, all the while darting in and out of the chorus of dancers. Near the end of Act I, in what should be the big romantic moment between Finch and Rosemary, played with a sweet wholesomeness by Rose Hemingway, the director feels a flurry of pirouetting dancers appearing from behind a couch is necessary. Maybe the decision was to distract the audience from the total lack of chemistry between the two would-be lovers.

Derek McLane’s sets had me scratching my head, as they veered from minimalistic, with sliding decorative screens to unnecessary extravagance, as exemplified by Finch’s multi-level office in Act II. What was the point?

Was there any part of the show that hit the mark? The supporting characters did shine especially Christopher Hanke as the plotting mama’s boy, Bud Frump; and Mary Farber as the wise-cracking, Smitty. The Frank Loesser score is chock full of great songs, unfortunately undersold by the passable singing voices of many of the leads.

The revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, now on Broadway. Rent the movie version with Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee instead.

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