By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Humming and dancing our way out of the Goodspeed Opera House after “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” we overheard enthusiastic theatergoers saying “it’s the best thing we have ever seen at Goodspeed!”

We would agree this Goodspeed Musical comedy is one of its most exuberant and well-produced shows that we’ve seen over the years. 

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls”), a well-structured and witty book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert this satire of American business is as relevant today as when we saw the original 48 years ago!

Opening the show is an impish character, J.Pierpont Finch, a manipulative and ambitious window-washer who uses his considerable charm and unconscionable guile to climb the ladder of success from the mail room to the top rung in no time at all.
 He silently absorbs the advice in the pages of a little self-help book “How To Succeed….” The text is delivered by an exceptionally fine voice-over narration – the playbill credited a major Connecticut politician! (Maybe a new career is in bloom.) The narrator describes the various ways to deviously undermine colleagues to get ahead – highlighting the similarities between corporate and government political machinations.

Brian Sears plays Finch, and he’s perfectly described by those lyrics from the song “I Believe in You” as having, “an upturned chin, and the grin of impetuous youth,” The cunning character’s reprehensible behavior in the corporate world is nonetheless devilishly winsome in Brian’s charismatic portrayal on stage.

Finch’s love interest, Rosemary, who is somewhat affectionately ignored by him in the first act, is beautifully sung by Natalie Bradshaw, whose character dreams of marrying the rising executive so that she can move to New Rochelle and be “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm.”  A not uncommon hope and dream of moms and daughters in those pre-lib days, and we occasionally still hear it today.

As head of ‘World Wide Wickets,’ talented Ronn Carroll bombastically bellows and blusters through his role as J.B. Bigley, and his “Grand Old Ivy” duet with Finch is an encore-inspiring showstopper – a given with this magnificent performer. (Pellinore in last season’s “Camelot.”)
Va-va-voom,  red-headed bimbo, secretarial hopeful Hedy La Rue, is performed superbly, in the great tradition of broad comedy, by sexy Nicolette Hart. She’s at her very best when she belts out “Love From A Heart Of Gold.”  Hedy causes the inevitable downfall of many executives who lust to secretly ‘meet her around the corner,’ another highlight, among many, in this satirical romp.

Erin McGuire’s ‘Smitty’ sings “Been A Long Day” and “Paris Original” with a clear and true Mermanesque voice. Miss Jones, as portrayed by Jennifer Smith, breaks out of her middle-age staid demeanor when flirting with Finch, and in her contribution to the rousing hand-clapping-gospel-style number “Brotherhood of Man.” 

Fourteen fine singer-dancer-actors accompany the featured male executives led by Tom Deckman as Bigley’s nephew Bud Frump, a mamas-boy who at first attempts to quietly undermine Finch’s secret ambitions but steadily builds his venomous jealousy into a hilarious crescendo of whiny, hysterical frustration.

The dual roles of Mr. Twimble and Mr. Romper are played with gusto by Richard Vida. It’s another memorable performance in this skilled actor’s long Broadway-based career.
Aaron Serotsky, James Beaman, and Jerry Christakos, as Bratt, Gatch and Ovington, round out this great production with their glorious voices and solid characterizations of 60’s-style corporate yes-men.

Director Greg Ganakas, a Connecticut Critics Circle Award winner, is most likely too young to have seen the original Broadway production.  Yet he infuses this revival with all the elements that made it a huge hit in the early 60s. It moves along as briskly as Finch’s climb to the top.
Perhaps the only downside in this incarnation is that a couple obvious laugh lines in the libretto were surprisingly missed by the director and his actors. For instance the timing in a line about a haddock sandwich being delicious early in the week was thrown away during the singing of “The Company Way.”

The towering office set, by Adrian W. Jones, is mid-20th-century moderne and modular, enabling the scenic changes to be quick and flawless. Paul Miller’s lighting adds to this quickness each time he cleverly spotlights only Finch who knowingly shares with the audience each manipulative office coup. It makes these split-second moments a complete scene.
Gregory Gale’s costumes perfectly capture the Madison-Avenue style of the times, and his gowns in the celebratory party scene are flowing, elegant fabrics and colors. There’s a wonderful sight gag in the design of a pink frock.  

Choreographer Kelli Barclay moves the cast around the tiny stage with fluidity and gusto. Her considerable talent is at its best with “Brotherhood Of Man.”

Every lyric and spoken word is heard clearly via Jay Hilton’s sound design, and Dan DeLange’s orchestrations and Michael O’Flaherty conducting add their renowned talents to the overall success of the production, especially by not drowning out the voices in the musical scenes.

This is bubbly, bouncy Broadway at its best. See it before it leaves Goodspeed on November 28th. For tickets call 860.873.8668 or go to www.goodspeed.org.

Copyright © 2010. Critics On The Aisle™. All rights reserved.
Published in the print edition of Metroline News Magazine, Nov. 5, 2010
Published online by The Resident, Nov. 10, 2010

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