Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock
& Willie Gilbert
Directed by Rob Lindley
Music Direction by Kory Danielson
Choreography by Brenda Didier
Produced by Porchlight Music Theatre
At Stage 773, Chicago
Dated Broadway musical has its moments in Porchlight’s ambitious production
Mounting a large scale Broadway musical on a small thrust stage with a cast of nineteen actors with a limited budget is quite a task. Rob Lindley’s passion for the show allowed him to take on the challenge but the book and the mostly forgettable songs from Frank Loesser (Guys & Dolls and The Most Happy Fellow) in a two hour and forty minute show were simply overwhelming. The main problem here lies in the dated book that screams anachronistic in the 21st Century society.
How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is based on the best-selling 1952 book of the same name. It is, as is the musical, a satirical look at the corporate world of a large corporation. It also is a spoof of the emerging popularity of self-help books that promised solutions to common personal problems. After reading How to Succeed (narrated by the golden-voiced CBS TV news anchor Bill Kurtis), a young conniving window washer, long on chutzpah – J Pierrepoint Finch (the charming Tyler Ravelson) climbs the corporate latter by following the book’s advise. The result is a whimsical satire of large corporations before all the downsizing.
This Broadway musical has not held up after more than fifty years and it is seldom produced in Chicago because the material is mediocre and the book comes off as more goofy than satirical despite Rob Lindley’s correct choice to play all the corporate types larger-than-life. There are laughs, terrific energetic choreography (by Brenda Didier) and several terrific performances but the shows seems to be trying to hard to land such out of date material.
What gives the show its chops are the developed characters: Finch is the charming conniver that we empathize with and Tyler Ravelson lands him with deft aplomb. Fred Zimmerman is a comic pro who is the commanding corporate president who anchors the show. John Keating is the arch rival to Finch’s ambition, Bud Frump. Keating plays Bud as a creepy nerd that produces many laughs. Add some fine supporting roles such as Iris Liberman’s stuffy secretary, Miss Jones and Sharriese Hamiton’s wonderful singing secretary and these key characters deliver the show’s finest moments. I had trouble with the lack of credible romantic spark between Finch and Rosemary (Elizabeth Telford whose singing was a tad scratchy). The ensemble worked hard and gamely but dancers in business suits doing cartwheels seemed a stretch.
How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’ s score saved its best tunes for the show’s last scenes. “I Believe In You” and “Brotherhood of Man’ with the suits dancing vigorously and a terrific singing and tapping Miss Jones that had Iris Liberman belting over the guys. That was the show’s finest moment.
In summary, How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is a curiosity show that is rarely mounted and is decidedly mediocre and Porchlight’s current production, despite some terrific elements and some excellent performances, can’t get over the hooky , old-fashion book and hollow songs. But, if you enjoy the old time musicals from the 50’s and early 60’s, you’ll like this show.
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For more info checkout the How to Succeed In Business without Really Trying page at theatreinchicago.com
At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call 773-327-5252, www.porchlightmusictheatre.org , tickets $43.50, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through June 1, 2014