Eye on Theatre: 50th Anniversary Production of “Succeed” Succeeds By John Simon

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Simon_John The very effectively revived musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is savvily based on a shrewd novel by Shepherd Mead, whose many years in advertising work enabled him to be an apt recorder of the shenanigans on which big business is based.  This tongue-in-cheek show ranges brilliantly from impish cheekiness to imperious impudence. 

EoT_Daniel RadcliffeandthecastofHowtoSucceedinBusinesswithoutReallytrying-AriMintz Daniel Radcliffe and the cast of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.>>>

Take our protagonist, J. Pierrepoint Finch, a young man who starts out perilously perched washing skyscraper windows and ends up comfortably ensconced as vice-president of advertising for World Wide Wickets.  A scoundrel–or more benignly a scamp– is what young Finch is and we’re not to overlook that his middle name closely resembles Pierpont, associated with the House of Morgan, and that wickets are a product whose use, not to mention its very quiddity, even God may not know. Machiavellianly playing a docile, unambitious, hard-working innocent, Finch gradually inveigles everyone. To be noted is that his very nickname, Ponty, sounds ominously close to Ponzi, and that whenever he states his last name he immediately spells it out—f, i, n, c, h—drawing further attention to his ostensibly sweet, songfully avian self. 

EOT_Daniel Radcliffe and Tammy Blanchard2 It is also indicative that he derives his manipulative progress from a self-help book about how to succeed in business (its jesuitical advice is heard out loud in the fruity voice of Anderson Cooper), which shows that we live in a society whose very counseling is profoundly amoral, book-learning included. 

To be sure, there is at WWW someone far more reprehensible than Finch, Bud Frump, a notorious crybaby, mother’s boy and slacker, who owes his job to flagrant nepotism, and does everything in his anti-Finchist power to trip up his perceived rival, only to be trapped by his own, ludicrously inept treachery. 

Their boss, J. B. Biggley, is a marvelously soft-cored, married blowhard, the song-and-dance scene of his inveigling by Finch being one of the funniest in all musical comedy. He has secured a secretarial job for Hedy LaRue, a somewhat over-the-hill good-time girl and his mistress, even though her typing skill is no more than a negligible handful of words per minute. Already on the WWW staff are Miss Jones, Biggley’s very masculine termagant of a secretary, whom Finch nevertheless manages to flatter into a not entirely ungiddy woman; also Rosemary Pilkington, an attractively nubile secretary looking for a husband whom, as his slavishly subservient spouse, she will help propel to greatness in their dream home in fabled New Rochelle. There is, further, the obligatory tough-talking comedienne, Smitty, Rosemary’s colleague and sidekick, with the equally obligatory heart of gold. 

Out of the crisscrossings of these characters, and a few well-chosen others, the bookwriters EOT_Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette2 There is not a weak link in the superb cast, led by the adorably roguish Finch of Daniel Radcliffe and  feelingfullly grumpy Mr. Biggley of John Larroquette. Valiant support comes from Rose Hemingway’s  romantic Rosemary, Tammy Blanchard’s slithering Hedy, Mary Faber’s no-nonsense Smitty, Ellen Harvey’s stony-faced Miss Jones, and several gifted others, among whom I especially relished Michael Park as a befuddled department head, and Rob Bartlett in two very different but equally hilarious roles as the bittersweet retiring master of the mailroom and the pompously portly owner of the firm. 

This How to Succeed succeeds resoundingly in a show business whose more recent huffing and puffing specimens have been genuinely trying. But then, they were the works of lesser men than Loesser and Burrows.

Photos by and courtesy of Ari Mintz, except where noted otherwise.

John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review, New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com andBloomberg News. He reviews books for the New York Times Book Review andWashington Post. He has written profiles for Vogue, Town and Country, Departures and Connoisseur and produced 17 books of collected writings. Mr. Simon holds a  PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College. To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.comwebsite.

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eHeziEye on Theatre: 50th Anniversary Production of “Succeed” Succeeds By John Simon

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