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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Goodspeed Musicals

How to Succeed in Business
Brian Sears
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying grows luminous during its more compact second act as the musical continues at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through November 28th. Thematically, the show features a Horatio Alger type hero, J. Pierrepont Finch (Brian Sears), who will dream and scheme his way to fiscal and perhaps personal success. The boyish Finch is also something of a smart aleck.

The play opened on Broadway in 1961 starring Robert Morse. The actor received the Tony Award for his performance, and he is now, a half century later, featured as head of an advertising agency on TV's "Mad Men," also set in the 1960s. How to Succeed, when perceived as a period piece, holds up rather well as it rollicks along with many a vivacious moment at Goodspeed Musicals.

Finch is first glimpsed as a lowly window washer, albeit one with eyes on the upper echelon of the corporate world. He references a manual which will, he hopes, guide his way. An appealing blonde secretary, Rosemary Pilkington (Natalie Bradshaw), falls for him and sings "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm." Bud Frump (Tom Deckman) is a nerdy competitor who is deeply envious of Finch.

The proceedings occur inside and outside the World Wide Wicket Company and the scenic design (especially elevators) provided by Adrian W. Jones creates proximity with great flourish. The senior and quite comic top tier corporation executive and philanderer is J.B. Biggley (played with a combination of skill and flair by Ronn Carroll). Actress Nicolette Hart flaunts shamelessly as the curvaceous yet absurd Hedy LaRue. The story tracks the ascent of Finch, who hasn't any qualms about back-stabbing as he swiftly makes his way to the top.

The first lengthy act is delivered with pizzazz and professionalism; the songs, however, are not memorable. Frank Loesser's music and lyrics do carry the second portion, which leaves everyone in attendance in an upbeat mood. It features two classic tunes, the first being "I Believe in You." It is rendered initially by Finch and, after an intervening scene, by Rosemary. Each of the actors brings the number across with style and precision. No sooner does Natalie Bradshaw complete the reprise than the scene shifts to J.B. Biggley's office. That provides a setting for Sears to launch into "Brotherhood of Man." By the time the number concludes, many male cast members join Miss Jones (the supremely amusing Jennifer Smith) in a terrific song and dance extravaganza, as choreographed by Kelli Barclay. This is infectious enough to make any theatergoer wish he were part of the on stage ensemble.

Director Greg Ganakas and Musical Director Michael O'Flaherty combine forces to shift the production into overdrive by picking up the pace after intermission. During the first act, there's reason to wonder whether it's all a tad dated to be fully credible. Throughout, Brian Sears wins everyone over with a combination of charm and not-so-covert ambition. He smiles sweetly and is tough to dislike. Yes, he wants power, but he never alienates as he drives toward an aspiration to become chairman of the board.

Goodspeed's cozy physical confines encourage the relationship between performers and those watching. Hence, How to Succeed makes for a neat, fortunate fit.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying continues at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through November 28th. For tickets, call (860) 873-8668 or visit www.goodspeed.org.


Photo: Diane Sobolewski


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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