“How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”

Goodspeed Musicals
       --Irene Backalenick

What went wrong at Goodspeed Musicals? Where is the appeal which
usually permeates each show? Why are we left with so little empathy for Goodspeed’s current show--“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”?

This is particularly surprising, since “How to Succeed” has excellent credentials. Consider its history: Based on Shepherd Mead’s best-selling book of the same name, “How to Succeed” went on to become a 1961 award-winning Broadway musical.  It would win seven Tony Awards, the New York Drama Critics Circle award, and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. A subsequent film and a Broadway revival were equally successful. And small wonder, given the show’s creators! Abe Burrows (noted book “doctor”) collaborated on the book, and Frank Loesser (of “Guys and Dolls” fame) provided music and lyrics.
            
Yet, despite its big-name connections and its numerous awards, the musical feels dated. “How to Succeed” follows the fortunes of one J. Pierrepont Finch, a lowly mail room clerk, who lies, connives, and claws his way to the top of the corporate ladder. In today’s world such a story should be told with sharp-edged satire and dark coloring. A fun-and-games approach is no longer appropriate, if indeed it was ever appropriate. It’s difficult to understand why “How to Succeed” was ever a winner.
           
Nor does this oddly-disenchanting production improve the material. The show opens against a bland background of sliding glass panels, with the company rushing madly about the stage. Where is this heading? Ultimately, Finch takes over, and the story gets under way. Brian Sears, in that role, proves to be appealing, as do other supporting players.  Natalie Bradshaw, Ronn Carroll, Tom Deckman, Nicolette Hart, Jennifer Smith, and Aaron Serotsky all turn in competent performances. Yet, all told, they do not provide enough excitement to counteract the material.
           
Finch capitalizes on a series of corporate goof-ups, and ultimately becomes vice-president in charge of advertising. Along the way, a love interest (Natalie Bradshaw as Rosemary) sparks the tale. Everything, including performances, is exaggerated, until one finally recognizes “How to Succeed” for the spoof it is. But the end result is more like a college show than a winning Broadway musical. Not even such Loesser songs as “I Believe in You” and “A Secretary is Not a Toy” save the day. They never reach the level of the “Guys and Dolls” tunes.

Why doesn’t “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”
succeed? Someone wasn’t really trying.

This review also appears in the Conn. Post and on nytheaterscene.com


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