BWW Review: TUTS Teaches a Lesson In HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
What it I told you that there was a place you could go to where there was no election, no drama, no angst - a colorful place filled with attractive people singing and dancing unabashedly at the drop of a hat, a world of sweet nostalgia that never existed, but for which we nevertheless yearn? And what if I told you that you could spend two wonderful hours there, one intermission, just by buying a ticket? Would you go?
Well, you're in luck, because Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) has brought you HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, and it's all that and more.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1961, book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, this '60s confection was an instant hit, went on to play 1,417 performances, and then was made into a movie.
The story is all about climbing the corporate ladder by hook or (mostly) crook, and was a pretty biting satire of the time. In our 21st century, thoroughly schooled in the intricacies of MAD MEN as we are, this is old hat, but played for comedy, it's delicious.
Of course, for those who are of that bent, sinister undercurrents and political incorrectness abound, but I chose to leave all that at the theater door, and I would advise you to do the same. It's OK; you can pick it up on your way out, if you must, but don't worry; it'll come back to you. A couple of hours without it won't hurt.
J. Pierpont Finch (Chris Dwan) begins his career as a window washer, but he has ambitions far above his station, and he is eager to begin his climb. With a copy of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a "how to" book on the subject, as his Bible, he begins, step by step, working his way through the labyrinthine corridors of World Wide Wickets, an international conglomerate that makes and sells - what else? - wickets.
Applying for a job, he bumps into the big boss, J.B.Biggley (Stuart Marland), on whom he makes an immediate impression, Rosemary Pinkerton (Ashley Blanchet), a husband-hungry secretary on the lookout for the main chance, and her gal pal Smitty (Ryann Redmond). Finch - F.I.N.C.H. - is on his way.
Other pertinent characters appear, including Finch's nemesis and the boss's nephew, Bud Frump (Joshua Morgan), corporate exec Bert Bratt (Arnie Burton) J.B.'s personal secretary, and one of the few who know what's going on and how the company actually runs, Miss Jones (Allyson Kaye Daniel), Mr.Twimble (Kevin C. Loomis), Finch's first boss in the mail room. Last, but not in any way least, is aspiring businesswoman and former showgirl Hedy LaRue (Felicia Finley), who more or less turns the whole thing upside-down with her bump-and-grind walk and her take-no-prisoners cleavage.
Dwan, as Finch, imparts an unabashed ambition with an innocent flair that make his character likeable, and the audience roots for him as he tries every dirty trick in his book for a grab at the brass ring and his clear Broadway tenor never fails.
Ashley Burton just glows as Rosemary, and her plaintive anthem to her idea of marriage comes through beautifully in "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm", a sentiment that seems so quaint today. Rosemary is a romantic and a realist, all at the same time. Her friend Smitty aides and abets her with gusto.
Joshua Morgan's Bud Frump is campy and fun to watch, even as he plots to out-do Finch in his rise to the top, with the aid of his mother and his aunt, Mr. Biggley's wife. There is nothing he won't stoop to, and he stoops to most of them. You want him to get his comeuppance, but not quite yet.
Stuart Marland as Mr. Biggley is a bundle of indignation and bluster that steals every scene he's in. He doesn't so much run the company as the company runs him, and he's clueless most of the time. As with a lot of executives, he'd be completely lost without his secretary, Miss Jones.
But the walking time bomb that is Felicia Finley's Hedy is the one to watch. From her first hip-wriggling entrance, she has the male contingent around her finger, and the females on their guard. Addressing her tardiness, she breathlessly announces that, "It is I whom am late." And when she is assigned to Finch, she informs him that she is his "assignation". She plays the blonde dimwit (with red hair) to perfection, but there's a brain lurking under those curls.
So about that social conscience of yours.... It's true that HOW TO SUCCEED is rife with stereotypes and gender bias. But even in 1961, the issue was addressed. The girls' rollicking office number, warning the junior execs to mind their manners with "A Secretary Is Not A Toy" sums it up nicely. "Her pad is to write in, and not spend the night in". The fact that they're "secretaries" and not "administrative assistants" is more a matter of meter than mores.
Hedy, on the other hand is an undeniable and indefensible sexual trope. The hero is an unrepentant opportunist, and the rest of the characters are no better. But, hey, nobody's perfect.
Together, they give HOW TO SUCCEED all the '60's pop and playfulness of the original, from the Mondrian-inspired sets to the neon colors of the wardrobe, there's never a dull moment. And a little something special for Finch's "Aha" light cues.
So c'mon, have a little fun. I think we could all use it.
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING runs through November 6th at TUTS, 800 Bagby St #200. For tickets and information, visit tuts.com.