How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Most of the credit, I think, should go to the book by Abe Burrows, Frank Loesser, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert. Spinning off from a 1952 parody of self-help books by Shepherd Mead, the story recounts the rise of J. Pierrepont Finch from mailroom boy to chairman of the board of a big New York corporation in what seems to be a matter of days. (It's never made clear if J. Pierrepont is his real name or an attempt to copy the famous plutocrat J. Pierpont Morgan, but knowing Finch, probably the latter.) The story is clever, fast-moving and acute, and even though you would think it would be dated, I don't think that all that much has changed in the corporate world. Maybe that's why "Mad Men" is so popular.
The songs are by Frank Loesser, who also wrote the score for Guys and Dolls. This musical is not in that leaguebut not much is. There are at least four songs that I feel contribute little to the plot, and exist mainly to provide opportunities for singing and dancing by the chorus. But they are performed here with great dynamism and style. "I Believe in You" is a good song, "Brotherhood of Man" is a terrific closing number, and most of the other songs have clever lyrics if not immediately memorable melodies.
Landmark Musicals just keeps getting better and better. This production is thoroughly professional, and other than maybe more expensive sets, I don't think a Broadway touring company could do much better. Myra Cochnar (producer) and Zane Barker (director) have assembled a terrific cast, top to bottom, and the production standards are first rate. Costumes by Joe Moncada (apparently influenced by The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit), hair by Lynn Hall, sets by Myers Godwin, lighting by Zane Barker, choreography by Louis and Courtney Giannini, and music direction by Deborah Briggs are all outstanding. There are umpteen set changes, and they go off without a hitch.
All of the performers are excellent. I guess I could single out Aleah Waldron, Michael Finnegan, Leonard Hughes, Lisette Herrera, Rebecca Turiciano and Lynn Loomis, but that's only because they had larger roles than the others. Everyone deserves a standing ovation.
The subtitle of the original book was "The Dastard's Guide to Fame and Fortune," and Finch does indeed act dastardly at times, especially to Rosemary, the secretary who falls for him. The title is ironic: He tries very hard to succeed in business. Finch is kind of a jerk, but we can't help rooting for him, so you need a likable actor for the lead. Joey Côté fills the bill perfectly. He's a wonderful actor/singer/dancer, and so darn charming. It saddens me that in his bio in the program, he says that this will be his final theatrical production, but I guess that if you gotta go, go out on top.
I'm really impressed by Zane Barker's directing. His attention to detail is the mark of a really good director, and what turns me on about live theater.
If you want to see really good live theater, go see How to Succeed while you can.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm at the Rodey Theater on the University of New Mexico campus, through October 2, 2011. Tickets are $22 and $20, and can be purchased at the UNM box office. See landmarkmusicals.org for more information.