How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Presented by Savoyards
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed by Sherryl-Lee Secomb
Iona Performing Arts Centre from 26 September to 10 October. Bookings: firstname.lastname@example.org or (07) 3893 4321
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a Broadway musical which has won a Pulitzer Prize and seven Tony Awards. It first hit the boards in the 46th Street Theatre on Broadway in 1961 and is the story of a young man, J. Pierrepont Finch who, using a handbook (How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), goes from being the window washer to Chairman of the Board in a few short weeks at the World Wide Wicket Company.
Finch, or Ponty, craftily stages each rise on the ladder of success on the advice given in the book. The book narrator voices over snippets of advice at various stages during the show, on how to keep moving up the ladder, as we follow Ponty’s rise from mailroom to junior executive at lightning speed. The other characters Ponty meets along the way are either stepping stones to the top or obstacles – J.B Biggley, company president; Bratt, the personnel manager; Twimble, head of the mailroom; Bud Frump (Biggley’s nephew); Rosemary (a pretty secretary longing for love); Hedy La Rue (Biggley’s mistress) and Wally Womper (Chairman of the Board).
This is a very clever, funny and snappy show, with a great score, and the talents of the Artistic Director, Sherryl-Lee Secomb; Musical Director, Geoffrey Secomb; and Choreographer, Desney Toia-Sinapati, are evident in the well-paced, polished performance of the cast.
The main cast members, each with an impressive musical resume, were superb in their roles. Joel O’Brien as Finch with Sarah Copley as Rosemary, made a lovely couple. Sarah’s solo ‘Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm epitomises her dream of married life in the suburbs. Rod Jones as J.B. Biggley, was an interesting character, who has more than a few lines that had the audience laughing – particularly how he changed tone and attitude from talking to his wife to talking to his mistress, Hedy. Jessica Ham as Hedy La Rue, was just superb with her Newark accent and her duet with Jones in the second half Love from a Heart of Gold was absolutely hilarious, especially when she belts out the word ‘treasure’. Her pitch on that word was spot on – almost touching on the ear splitting ‘yikes’ but not quite. Warren James is both Twimble and Womper.
James’ solo The Company Way explains to Finch how a total lack of ambition has kept him in the mailroom for 25 years, while he has watched others come and go. And Kyle Fenwick, was perfect as the snivelling, crawling, but dense, Bud Frump, Mr Biggley’s nephew, who expected to be promoted on nepotism. And if he didn’t get his way he rang his mother, who rang her sister, who was Biggley’s wife. Julie Eisentrager played Smitty, who was a colleague of Rosemary’s and her vocals were evident in a large number of the songs. As was Jacqui Cuny as Miss Jones (Mr Biggley’s secretary). And last, but not least, was Ian Moore as Bratt, the personnel manager, who leads the other executives in the counterpoint to Finch’s prep song to himself I Believe in You in the executive bathroom.
The other cast members who make up the other executives and secretaries and employees of the World Wide Wicket Company are also great in the songs and dances that created the spectacular visual on stage.
The stage is laid out with two lifts to either side with a raised stepped stage at the back with two massive doors and the letters – ‘W W’ on them. Either side of the doors are large pot plants and ‘glassed’ walls to give the impression that this is the boardroom. The doors open towards the end of the first half to reveal the orchestra securely tucked away. The two front wings of the stage are used to create two offices – Biggley’s and Ponty’s (when he eventually becomes the new advertising executive). Office desks (cubes on wheels), with chairs, are wheeled on and off to create the secretarial pool, or the boardroom table, and even an executive washroom, all complete with different accessories.
As this musical was first done in 1961, that is the era it is set in, and the costumes, particularly those of the female cast members, show that. The men are all in suits for the main part, except those characters who are the cleaners, and Mr Twimble in the mail room with his visor and braces. The costumes were superb – both in colour and variety. The hair/wig design also nicely matched the era.
All of the above, however, does not come together without the myriad of workers backstage and a superb orchestra. The sound levels for the production were perfect – so many times I have been to musicals elsewhere and have not been able to understand what is being sung as the music drowns out the singers. But not this production. You hear every word and the orchestra made up of wind, string, keyboard and drums, was just perfect for this show.
Apart from a few first night hiccups of line stumbling and microphones not performing as they should, this show was excellent, and this cast could quite easily be moved from the Iona Performing Arts Centre to a theatre on Broadway. The dances that accompanied the songs, were all choreographed to be part of the whole and integrated well into the office setting. My two favourite numbers were Coffee Break and Paris Original. The latter seeing Rosemary heading off to the office party in a new dress, only to discover five other women have exactly the same dress – “enough to make you spit” as the line in the song goes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this show. This is the first time I have seen Savoyards in action and I was mightily impressed. Well done to the whole ensemble.