Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Bright and Enticing Production of
How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Also see Richard's review My Fair Lady

Michael Rhone
Jay Manley's production of the 1962 Pulitzer Prize winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is upbeat and irresistible, playing in the Smithwick Theatre on the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills through August 12th. Although it's not easy to turn back the clock on this 1961 musical, Manley and company still make this an appealing production. It springs to life thanks to a very talented cast of forty-seven young singer/actors and great choreographed moves by Dottie Lester-White to Frank Loesser's score, especially in the "Coffee Break" and "Brotherhood of Man" numbers. The humor in Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert's book resonates with satiric jabs on corporate personnel still ringing true 50 years later.

This marks the fourth time I have seen this energy-driven musical, starting with Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee at the 46th Street Theatre in New York during the winter of 1961. That production won seven Tony Awards. Later I saw Warren Berlinger and Billy De Wolfe at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London in 1963, followed much later by the Broadway revival at the Richard Rodgers Theatre starring Matthew Broderick and his future wife Sarah Jessica Parker.

From the moment he appears dangling on a window washer's perch high above the proscenium stage, Michael Rhone as the ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch proves he can carry a musical that is 50 years old. The seemingly innocent Finch finagles his way through the echelons of World Wide Wicket with a little help from secretary and potential wife Rosemary (Corrie Lenn Borris), battling the whiny Bud Frump (David Mister), nephew of the company CEO J.B. Biggley (Walter M Mayes).

Rhone takes charge of the Smithwick stage and has a direct approach to all lines. Every time he turns to the spotlight with a conspiratorial salutation, the audience breaks out laughing. He has great vocal cords singing "How to Succeed," "Rosemary" and "I Believe in You."

As Rosemary, Corrie Lenn Borris is overly brash, proving she is no pushover even as se sings with strong vocal cords, "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm." When Rosemary joins Finch in the romantic ballad "Rosemary," she bursts into full, radiant life. Meanwhile, Sarah Griner puts va-va-voom into her sexy portrayal of airhead Hedy La Rue with a Vivian Blaine voice straight out of Guys and Dolls.

David Mister is wickedly funny as Bud Frump, and Walter M. Mayes makes a gruff and funny J. B. Biggley resembling Bernie Madoff. Doug Brees is delightful as Mr. Twimble, performing "The Company Way," that celebration of the self-serving wisdom of toeing the party line. Katie O'Bryon as Smitty and Linda Piccone as Miss Jones add oomph to the secretarial force.

Costumes by Janis Bergmann are straight out of "Mad Men," though I do question the outfits the women wear in "Paris Original"; this was one of the best bitingly satiric gags, but are here, the outfits are merely ghastly. The set by Joe Ragey adds to the merriment of the musical with a backdrop of city towers that could be any large city in this country.

How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying plays through August 12 at the Smithwick Theatre, 12345 El Monte Rd (El Monte Exit West, off Hwy 280), Los Altos Hills. For tickets call 650-949-7360 or visit www.foothillmusicals.com.

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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