BWW Reviews: A.C.T. Stages an Exuberant, Crowd-Pleasing HOW TO SUCCEED
Want to know how to succeed at producing an entertaining musical comedy? Check out Archangel Community Theatre's current production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The production, which is packed with top tier talent, is an unbridled success from beginning to end.
The show follows a young man, J. Pierrepont Finch, who rises from window washer to chairman of the board by utilizing the advice found in a self-help book titled, you guessed it, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (The musical, incidentally, is loosely based on a self-help book parody by Shepherd Mead which is well worth a read). Through deceit, trickery, and backstabbery, Finch climbs his way to the top.
Director Ivan Klousia knows exactly how to sell this hysterical satire. The pace is brisk and the proceedings are slightly campy, both fitting choices given how the material has its tongue firmly planted in cheek. Choreographer Judy Thompson-Price gives the musical showstoppers galore. Some numbers, particularly "Brotherhood of Man" even contain nods to the recent revival's Tony nominated choreography. The sets and costumes, by Douglas Mackie and Rick Lin respectively, both give the production a retro 1960s feel, though some set pieces are a tad rough around the edges.
As for the cast, they're second to none. It's worth noting that Archangel Community Theatre's mission is to provide a pre-professional training ground to students by allowing them to share the stage with seasoned performers. Considering how it's difficult to pick out who in the ensemble is a student and who is a seasoned pro, I'd say mission accomplished.
How to Succeed features an abundance of great featured roles, and every single featured performer shines in this production. As personnel manager Mr. Bratt and mailroom head Mr. Twimble, Scotty Roberts and Jose Villarreal are tasked with two of the show's biggest numbers, and both are fantastic. As Bud, the boss's nephew and Finch's nemesis, Kirk German's performance is a little too big and melodramatic for my personal taste, but he's certainly an audience favorite. Jeannette Cannata-Grahmann is wonderful as Smitty, the sardonic secretary, as is Laura Powell as the boss's stern but high F-belting assistant.
As J.B. Biggley, the company president, Scott Shipman is an absolute scene-stealer. We've all had bosses who seem far too dim-witted and scattered to be the boss. Shipman plays the trope incredibly well, and his comedic timing is impeccable. The same can be said of Sarah Manna as Biggley's mistress, Hedy. A bombshell with doe eyes, Manna gets laugh after laugh.
The outstanding performances continue with the two leads. Andrew Cannata is perfectly cast as Finch. One of the biggest challenges for any actor playing Finch is how truly unsympathetic the character is. He's a self-serving weasel who lies and cheats to get what he wants. Still, we're supposed to side with him. While we may not like what the character does, Cannata plays Finch as such a cunning charmer that we're easily won over. I also must mention that I've never heard the role sung this well. The three Finch's who can be heard on cast recordings-Robert Morse, Matthew Broderick, and Daniel Radcliffe-can all carry a tune, but Cannata's voice blows them all out of the water. As Rosemary, Finch's love interest, Haley Smith is wonderful as well. While Rosemary is the female lead, she is somewhat unnecessary to the plot (as evident in Finch's constant unawareness of her), but Smith gives the character a motivation and direction that more than justifies her presence. Grounded, sharp as a tack, and with her eyes firmly on the prize, Smith's take on Rosemary is delightful, particularly when she fires off quick one liners or delivers a comedic tune like "Happy to Keep his Dinner Warm."
There are few musicals that are as charismatic and downright likeable as How to Succeed, and Archangel Community Theatre's production of it shows exactly why. When the right director, creative team, and cast rally around this show, success is guaranteed.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING plays the Gloria Delgado Performing Arts Theatre at St. Michael's Catholic Academy (3000 Barton Creek Blvd, Austin 78735) now thru August 3rd. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets are $10-$15. For tickets and information, please visit www.austinact.org