Friday, April 01, 2011

How To Succeed on Broadway While Really Trying

Whether or not you've seen or care about the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe is sure to charm the pants of you in How To Succeed On Business Without Really Trying, currently playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

How To Succeed, with a score by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, originally opened on Broadway in 1961 and is one of eight musicals to receive the Pulitzer Prize for drama (it also won the Tony for best musical). Radcliffe plays J. Pierrepont Finch, a window washer who gets a job in the mailroom at World Wide Wicket Company and uses the book How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying to move up the corporate ladder. He is so consumed with his mission that he doesn't have time for the romantic advances of secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Rose Hemingway). Because there has been much comparison with previous Finches, at this point I feel it is necessary to disclose that I had never seen a production of the musical, so I'm only going to address what I saw on stage that night. Radcliffe's natural charisma and youth make it easy to sympathize with the character, even while he fools others to get ahead. He has a surprisingly pleasant singing voice and for someone who claims to have never taken a dance lesson before being cast in this show, he is quite agile. He doesn't make it seem effortless, but that doesn't make it any less of a pleasure to watch. He is well-matched with both the sweet-voiced Hemingway and a grumbling John Larroquette, making his Broadway debut as the president of the company, J.B. Biggley (owing somewhat to their height difference).

It is hard not to be reminded of choreographer/director Rob Ashford's Promises, Promises of last season, with its brightly-colored '60s nostalgia, and he even brought along some of that ensemble with him, but unlike that production, here the dance numbers energize the show. Some of the jokes are dated and the sexism might be hard for some to take. But for a show with a song called "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm" where Rosemary sings, "I'll be waiting until his mind is clear while he looks through me. Right through me.," it's actually the women--particularly Ellen Harvey as Biggley's secretary Miss Jones and Tammy Blanchard as his mistress Hedy La Rue--who get the bulk of the laughs. Mary Faber, who was just seen in American Idiot, was the biggest surprise in a sassy turn as another of the secretaries, Smitty. I would be remiss if I closed this review without mentioning Rob Bartlett's crowd-pleasing performance as Twimble (he also plays Wally Womper) in the "The Company Way"--one of those old-fashioned numbers led by a character actor that one doesn't see enough of on Broadway these days.

Photo credit: Ari Mintz

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