'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' Succeeds on Stage
Wouldn’t it be great if we were given a simply written book to tell us how to succeed in whatever it is we wanted to pursue so long as its easy steps were followed? Supposing we were unqualified and the book taught us how to beat the system in ten or so easy steps? Well, such would be the case in Marriott Theatre’s latest production How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
In this latest Marriott musical, we are taken to the “Madmen” era of the early 1960’s, thrust back into a day when women in the business world were either secretaries or sex objects – or both - and men lacking professional skills could save their jobs simply by reaching out to the brotherhood of man, even getting women to join in their argument. We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” and in some ways everyone adheres to such advice conscious of the fact or not, meaning we can all relate. In How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, based on Shepherd Mead’s 1952 book of the same name, we get a highly exaggerated example of such a philosophy as well as a humorous satire of a sexist corporate structure.
In the heart of fast-paced New York City we find window washer J. Pierrepont Finch. He immediately shows a strong desire to become something bigger – someone important. Taking a break, he reads from a book in his hands, “How to Succeed in Business”. The audience hears what he is reading – shortcuts and tricks to quickly climb the ladder in a company. One of the first steps is to “find a company big enough where no one knows what the other employees are doing”. Finch may lack the qualifications to be a business professional but has no shortage of enthusiasm or ambition. Thanks to the book’s instructions, Finch “unwittingly” bumps into the right people and quickly lands himself a job in the mailroom of a large New York company. Referring to the book as often as possible, Finch butters up important decision makers in his path and, as the book predicts, is unceasingly promoted to higher positions. When Finch first arrives at the company he is met by Rosemary, a secretary, who has eyes for the young, determined newbie. Though her advances are obvious, Finch is dismissive having his eyes firmly fixed on succeeding within the company. Naturally, his plan does not proceed without a few hiccups along the way, the book always nearby for reference on what to do in such situations. As the quick-witted newly hired employee tries to climb to the next level, company owner Biggley’s nephew Frump (who was reluctantly hired by the big boss in the first place), jealous of the attention the newcomer is getting, always finds himself scheming to bring Finch down.
Seinfeld fans are reminded of George Costanza who cheats the system at work to always appear busy by acting annoyed at all times, continuously saying “five minutes” if someone asks for your time, keeping unkempt piles of paperwork on your desk, always having a document in hand while walking and sighing loud enough for fellow employees to hear to seem stressed.
Ari Butler admirably takes on the role of fast talking J.P. Finch, creating a likeable go-getter that we can back as he sidesteps company protocol to better his success. Gifted with fine acting chops and a pleasant voice that holds it own, Butler is exciting to watch from the musical’s opening number “How to Succeed”. Due to Butler’s energy-filled personality and charismatic nature that he injects into the character, we can easily overlook the fact that Finch is really just a transparent status-seeking kid who, rather than working hard, wants to cut all the corners he can in order to leapfrog those who really deserve it. We still like him – and the cast is filled with goodies. Jeff Award winner Alex Goodrich, who many may remember from his leading role as “Buddy” in Elf, takes his role as Biggly’s envious nephew and knocks it out of the park garnering most of the show’s biggest laughs. Terry Hamilton as Biggley is also a delight, perhaps making his biggest splash in the duet he shares with Finch “Grand Old Ivy” to which Finch of course is lying about his alma mater to appease his superior. And while a talented and hard-working ensemble is pivotal in moving the story along in a most entertaining fashion, Jessica Naimy naturally seizes audience attention as Rosemary who is constantly vying for Finch’s attention. The striking young starlet who has in the past landed a Broadway role in Honeymoon in Vegas and has hit the road for a national tour of South Pacific, is genuinely funny as she sings and dances her way into everyone’s hearts. In the now obviously sardonic number “How to Keep His Dinner Warm” near the show’s beginning (not so sure that was the case at the show’s inception in 1967), Naimy clearly lays the groundwork for a strong performance to come.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has several big song and dance numbers that come with a large amount of pizzazz and lines that will probably be stuck in one’s head for a while afterwards. A light comedy that can’t be taken seriously with lots of laughs and snappy numbers, Marriott’s latest production is a fine escape from life’s rigmarole if just for a night, as the early 1960’s are nicely recreated helping us lose ourselves in an charming story that comes with fine acting performances.