BWW Review: 5th Ave Proves It Knows HOW TO SUCCEED …
Dear Reader (It only seems appropriate to start this review off with that), sometimes a show comes along that feels like a no brainer. A show that's fairly bulletproof and if a theater does it well enough with enough pieces in place then it'll be a crowd pleaser. "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is one of those shows. You're bound to walk away from it with something you enjoyed. Which brings me to the current production at the 5th Avenue Theatre. They've managed to take this pleaser of a show so far beyond the bare minimum making this gem shine with so much brilliance that you may need sunglasses.
Based on the book by Shepherd Mead, this classic from Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert follows the exploits of young J. Pierrepont Finch (Eric Ankrim) as he maneuvers his way up the business ladder at lightening speed thanks to the advise from his handy little book, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". Along the way he meets the lovely Rosemary (Sarah Rose Davis) who has set her sights on young Finch as her future husband. He also encounters Bud Frump (Adam Standley), the boss's nephew, who views Finch as his nemesis who must be destroyed.
To put it plainly, minus a few technical gaffs I saw, this is a rock solid production filled with talent for days! Director Bill Berry has infused the show with all of the just-shy-of-over-the-topness that you can get and every single person on that stage is in on the joke. Add into that a highly colorful design from set designers Tom Sturge and David Sumner and costume designer Rose Pederson. Plus Bob Richard has come up with some of the best men-in-suits (and women too) choreography I've seen since I was blown away by the Crapshooter's Ballet in the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls". Every element of the direction and design fit together perfectly to create this vibrant homage to business in the 60's.
And then there was that cast. With an entire ensemble delivering their A game there's not one weak link in the bunch. But let's work our way through some of the standouts (of which there are many). Let's start with Jessica Skerritt who takes the sex bomb of Hedy LaRue to all new levels with the most hilarious affected proper businesswoman voice ever. Think Marilyn Monroe trying to be Gloria Steinam. Allen Fitzpatrick as the big boss with a heart of gold and a penchant for knitting takes his potentially throw away part and kills with it. Sarah Rudinoff makes for a wonderfully snarky Smitty. Jeff Steitzer is hilariously sycophantic as the toadying Mr. Bratt. Allen Galli pulls double duty as the meek and lovable Mr. Twimble and then comes back as the Chairman of the Board with some wonderful moves. Davis takes Rosemary beyond just the female love interest and infuses her with delightful if not completely sane character. And Standley puts so much smarmy energy mixed with some of the best comedic timing and physical comedy I've seen making it difficult to hate the character, as I was so happy every time he came on stage.
But it's Ankrim who has to carry the show and he does it with a cool grace. He's obviously working hard up there as he rarely leaves stage and is the center of attention of most scenes but he handles it beautifully. He's eager, earnest and above all leading the charge of that slight wink to the audience tone that makes this show great. But even while carrying this 2 hour 45 minute show he never waivers with his energy or focus and his voice is impeccable throughout. I've seen his talent on display for years but here he's putting his talent through a marathon and proving that's he's more than up to the task.
The show is simply a winner with more than enough toe tapping, hand clapping, and gut busting good times for everyone. And so with my three letter rating system I give the 5th Avenue's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" a glorious YAY+. I think we've found what the World Wide Wicket Treasure really is, this show!
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through February 21st. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.