How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a classic satirical musical comedy. Originally written in 1962, it follows the plight of J. Pierpont Finch on his rise to success in the World Wide Wicket Company. This staple of the American musical theatre cannon was Tony nominated, adapted for the silver screen, revived in 1995 to rave reviews, and is scheduled for another revival next year, starring none other than Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, Equus).
Performance Now! Takes on Piece With Potential
HE SAID: Full disclosure – This was the first musical I ever performed, and it has held special place in my heart since then. It has the potential to be incredibly funny, touching, and be an interesting satire of the corporate world. At its simplest, the show is a story of a man finding love on his pursuit of his American dream. Beyond that, it examines the gender roles of the era, inappropriate behaviors in the male-run business world, and the attitudes that make up the worst of corporate America. Anyone who thinks this show is a silly, brainless musical hasn’t seen it at its best.
SHE SAID: Although I was familiar with the music, I had actually never seen this show produced before. Although I could see the potential for great comedy, I also think that it has a very surface-level charm that the well-written older musicals have. I think that Performance Now! was able to nail the sweet and simple quality of the piece, even if the production as a whole fell a little short of some of piece’s theatrical potential.
Alisa Metcalf-Vaughters Finds Sincerity in Satire
HE SAID: I agree that there were plenty of sweet moments, as this production did well in the romantic side of the story. Real life couple, Charlie Schmidt and Alisa Metcalf-Vaughters, star as J. Pierrepont Finch and Rosemary Pilkington respectively, and their natural chemistry was evident. Metcalf-Vaughters was adorable as the love-smitten Rosemary and singularly brought a natural ease and sincerity to a show which was otherwise left at the surface-level charm.
SHE SAID: I agree that Metcalf-Vaughters was a very sweet and engaging Rosemary, and I really enjoyed her singing voice as well! I’d love to see her in other traditional roles from the same era of musicals (I kept picturing her as Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie). The supporting characters and ensemble all had strong singing voices, but I found several of the secondary characters to be somewhat two-dimensional. These performances were therefore entertaining, but didn’t stretch to the rich, dynamic characterizations that could have really made them hilarious.
Production Elements Appealing But Sparse
HE SAID:I found that issue in some of the main characters, as well. Finch, for instance, was amusing, but he so frequently looked at or said his lines to the audience that for me, it undercut the humor of the several moments in which he was actually written to do so. I was also somewhat perplexed by several aspects of the production. A couple of musical numbers were cut from the show (which you wouldn’t notice unless you knew the show) and the set pieces looked great, but were so widely spaced that the stage was all but bare for any number that didn’t include the entire chorus.
SHE SAID: The stage did work very well for the large dance numbers, and was well-utilized by the choreography (by director Gary Hathaway), which was consistently well-concieved and cute. I suppose I agree that Finch might not have maximized his comic potential, but honestly, I didn’t mind that much. Generally, I evaluate the energy and enjoyment of the cast just as much as I consider the artistic value of the production. Although this production had some room to grow artistically, the enthusiasm and engagement from the performers was evident, which made me enjoy myself overall.
“How to…” Stops Just Short of Potential for Success
THEY SAID: While How to Succeed… entertains even at a surface level, it is at its funniest when it finds and earnestly explores the satire in the piece. This is perhaps where Performance Now’s production would have succeeded even more had it tried a bit harder. Fortunately, even short of its full comic potential, there were many aspects of the production that were amusing, charming, and ultimately entertaining.
For more a full plot synopsis and history of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, see the wikipedia article. How to Succeed… presented by Performance Now plays through October 17 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. Click the banner below for tickets and more information.