Monday, February 24, 2003

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

After watching the opening moments of Davis Musical Theatre's current production, "How to Succeed in Business without really trying," one might think a touring Broadway show had slipped into the Varsity theatre unannounced. David Holmes' performance as J. Pierrepont Finch, the ambitious window washer who climbs the corporate ladder to the top of the World Wide Wicket Company is that good. He is matched by an equally strong performance from Andrea St. Clair (who is also the show's choreographer) as Rosemary Pilkington, the woman who sets her cap for him.

It is only when the curtains part to reveal the modest set that one remembers that this is community theatre. Over the years, DMTC has given us some amazingly good productions and some not so good. "How to Succeed" is among the best.

Director Steve Isaacson and choreographer St. Clair have crafted a show which is sprightly and crisp and assembled a cast which does it justice. It would be untruthful to say that every performer delivers a professional quality performance--this is community theatre after all. But there are enough top notch performances that one forgives the less professional. The amazing thing is that Isaacson has wrung some of the best performances out of his less professional actors that I have seen since reviewing DMTC.

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is written by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, based on the Pulitzer prize winning self-help book of the same name by Shepherd Mead. This is not a musical with tunes you've heard all your life, but still songs like "I Believe in You" and "Brotherhood of Man" may be familiar to some.

The show is set in the 1960s, years before the phrase "sexual harassment" would enter the common vocabulary, and so it must be viewed in its historical context. "Leave your political correctness at the door," director Isaacson warns, but there is little offensive in this humorous look at big business of the day, other than a little leering at the secretaries, a situation which is handled nicely by a reminder that "A Secretary is not a toy."

As Finch begins to make use of his self-help manual, he finds ways of manipulating just about everyone. He convinces Human Relations director Ben Bruening that he has a personal relationship with the CEO, J.B. Biggley (Arthur Vassar), and Bruening agrees to give him a job in the mail room. (The reliable Bruening delivers a solid performance--and his diction is impeccable.)

In the mail room, Finch meets Bud Frump (Tony Kelly), the slimy nephew of Biggley and a firm believer in nepotism. Kelly is marvelously smarmy as the creep you love to hate, but he is no match for the clever Finch.

Finch finds a way to get on the good side of Miss Jones, Biggley's prim and proper secretary, who discovers that she really has a wild side. The indomitable jazz-singing, skat singing Lenore Sebastian is a knockout in a rare supporting role.

What would a big business story be without a femme fatale? Lauren Miller, as Hedy LaRue, fills the bill nicely. Miller, in her second performance with DMTC, is tall and beautiful and knows how to wear stilleto heels.

A wonderful find for the company is Megan Rose Garcia, as Smitty Rosemary's sidekick who is helping her win the hand of the oblivious Finch.

Gil Sebastian is deliciously funny in the dual roles of the retiring mailroom supervisor Twimble and the Chairman of the Board, Wally Womper.

Once again, the confines of the Varsity theatre leave little room for more than utilitarian sets, but Isaacson has made the most of what he has to work with. Of particular note is the on-stage elevator, through which just about every entrance is made, even into and out of the men's bathroom. ("If you have an elevator, use it," he says) The marvelous thing about the elevator is that it worked every's the sort of thing that is ripe for timing accidents, but there was nary a one.

Jean Henderson's costumes appropriately suggest office atmosphere, and she's had some fun with things like Smitty's opening act pink business suit and the vamp attire for Hedy.

St. Clair's snazzy choreography is irresistible. It will at the very least set your toes tapping, if you don't exit the theatre waving your arms in the air in the manner of a last act finale.

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is a real winner for Davis Musical Theatre Co.

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