Marriott's 'How to Succeed' a fun, spirited romp
A rags-to-riches story basically is the American dream. In the latest classic musical at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, J. Pierrepont Finch goes from the rags a window washer uses to the riches of the executive suite on the other side of the glass. And, in a nutshell, “How to Succeed” … succeeds. It’s a fun, spirited romp by some possibly “mad men” and women in the corporate world of the 1960s.
Quick history lesson: in October 1961, a new Broadway musical opened. Based on a satirical 1952 book by Shepherd Mead inspired by his experiences at an ad agency – where he worked his way up from a mailroom clerk to a vice-presidency – the musical by Frank Loesser (music and lyrics) and Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert (book) was called “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” It won the Best Musical Tony Award in 1962 and six other Tonys; it even received the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It ran for more than 1,400 performances and was revived on Broadway in 1995 and 2011, with another 1,000-plus performances for those two revivals combined. On Broadway, Finch, our hero, has been played memorably by Robert Morse, Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe.
For this in-the-round production, Ari Butler ably portrays Finch, who’s determined to ascend the corporate ladder as quickly as he can using the advice from his copy of the Mead book. Finch sets his sights on the World Wide Wicket Co., but before he can apply for a job, he accidentally collides with WWWC President J.B. Biggley (the impressively versatile Terry Hamilton). When Finch meets the personnel director minutes later, he mentions he’d just been speaking with Biggley, having “bumped into him.” A job offer in the mailroom soon comes from the eager-to-please-the-boss personnel director. Yes, Finch is cut of the same cloth as “The Music Man’s” Harold Hill: he’s a quick thinker with the ability to not only land on his feet, but – where necessary – land on others’ feet.
Complicating Finch’s rise to the top are three characters: Rosemary Pilkington, an attractive secretary who falls for him; Bud Frump, Biggley’s nephew, who’s willing to backstab or use his uncle’s influence (or rather, the influence of his mother and her sister, Biggley’s wife); and Hedy La Rue, a bombshell Biggley’s infatuated with who really turns heads when she starts work at WWWC in an extremely revealing dress.
In 2016, the song, “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” sung early on by Rosemary about her dream of being married to an executive, even if he has to work long hours in the city, could be a problem for a modern audience that’s used to women in a variety of professions – even presidential politics. The sexual harassment endured by the secretaries, especially Hedy, also is unacceptable, regardless of the decade in which it occurs. But the performances by Jessica Naimy (Rosemary) and Angela Ingersoll (Hedy), both making their Marriott debuts, are three-dimensional, changing what could be one-note characters into something more endearing. From the moment she meets him, Rosemary wants to help “Ponty” (her endearment for Finch) advance his career while she moves their budding relationship forward. Work and romance are not mutually exclusive for her, and we see every twist and turn in Naimy’s expressive face and voice. Hedy, meanwhile, isn’t just a plaything (as the song “A Secretary Is Not a Toy” reminds us all); she’s just as eager for career or romantic success as the rest of them, and that’s evident in Ingersoll’s duet with Hamilton, “Love From a Heart of Gold.”
Kudos also are in order for Alex Goodrich, who plays Bud Frump. This talented actor, who appeared as the title character in “Elf” late last year at the Marriott, is hilarious. Biggley may think he’s a “damned fool,” but Goodrich makes Frump the villain you love to hate.
With a believable, funny 22-member cast, a skilled nine-piece orchestra, a fun storyline and great choreography by Melissa Zaremba – especially in the rousing “Brotherhood of Man” – director Don Stephenson and the Marriott have a show that definitely merited its standing ovation. “How to Succeed” is a musical about big business that deserves to do big business.