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Lots of laughs...

The most interesting character in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," the 1961 musical with the boffo score by Frank Loesser, is not J. Pierrepont Finch, the proto-millennial, ambitious corporate climber with the helpful little book, the cheeky smile and the kind of charm that previously has attracted such boyish stars as Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe. It's actually Rosemary Pilkington, a member of the secretarial pool at the World Wide Wicket Company, and a woman whose sights are set not, like Finch, on the boardroom, but on the seduction of Finch himself.

She's so determined to woo her man that she even sings about how she'll be "happy to keep his dinner warm."

One approach to "How to Succeed," the early fall attraction at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, is to make the show a cautionary tale about past horrors of the workplace for women — much like, say, the early episodes of "Mad Men." That's not hard in a show where another number has the title "A Secretary is Not a Toy," which makes light of workplace gropings, seductions and other once-omnipotent workplace lechery.

But whereas "Mad Men" was a dark satire, "How to Succeed" is a peppy musical comedy with a fleet of such exuberant, energetic songs that I actually find it hard to keep still in my seat — I'd argue that the fabulous syncopated verse to "I Believe In You" represents Loesser at his very best, even if the lyric seems, on its face, absurdly abeyant. And few ensemble numbers in Broadway history stack up to "Company Way" or "Brotherhood of Man."

Therefore, any modern day production with half a clue has to make it abundantly clear that Rosemary would not, in fact, be happy to keep Ponty's dinner warm. She's merely a tactician — no different, in fact smarter, than Finch himself. Just not afforded the same opportunity.

At the Marriott, director Don Stephenson's new production has the beginnings of that dynamic in place, thanks to an exceptionally sophisticated and superbly sung performance by the young New York actress Jessica Naimy, who plays Rosemary, and...from the clearly talented and similarly youthful performer Ari Butler,.. 

...The book — by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert — is a veritable comedic masterwork in Act 1, but it goes off the rails halfway through Act 2, only to be saved by Loesser with "Brotherhood of Man," a number so brilliant it always sends the audience out on a high. Still, I remain convinced the show really has to be about whether or not Rosemary will get Finch, not whether Finch will rise to the top. We know that five minutes into the show.

All that said, "How to Succeed" is, of course, top-drawer comic writing and this production often is extremely funny. I laughed loud and often at Angela Ingersoll's Hedy , which is a deliciously broad and fearless characterization, at Felicia P. Fields' dry Miss Jones, and at Derek Hasenstab's very rich double act as Mr. Twimble of the mailroom and Mr. Womper of the boardroom. And Stephenson has created a lot of clever physical humor within a very conventional design. The show is not overpopulated with dancers, nor would you call it over-choreographed, but Melissa Zaremba's work has some panache...

It all moves at lightning speed, which is perfectly fine, given that one of the central themes of the work is neurosis and that Finch's ambition waits for no man, or woman...