Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to Succeed in Business...

The Davis Musical Theatre Company has a solid hit on its hands, if the sparkling premier performance of “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” is any indication.

Despite a utilitarian set, which sometimes had a mind of its own, this production, directed and choreographed by Rand Martin (who also designed the set), boasts a strong cast and a good-sounding orchestra and hits all the important points spot on.

The book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, is based on the book of the same name by Shepherd Mead. The original show, which opened in 1961, was a big hit for Robert Morse, won seven Tony awards, the New York Drama Circle award and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

A film was made in 1967 and the show was revived on Broadway in 1995, starring Matthew Broderick. It is currently in a new Broadway revision, starring Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame.

It is the story of an ambitious young window washer, J. Pierrepont Finch, who is convinced he can quickly rise in the corporate world with the help of a book called “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.” Throughout the play we hear the unseen voice of the author of the book (the voice of Don Geronimo).

Director Martin explained that he went looking for the original Mead book, hoping to get a better cultural understanding of corporate America in the middle of the last century, and was immediately struck by the fact that he could have been reading a book written in 2011.

Except for women having a slightly bigger role in running America’s corporations and more of an attempt to control sexism in the workplace today, much of the advice by the author still holds true, and everyone still strives to do things “The Company Way.”

Integral to the success of a production like “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is a likeable Finch, and David Holmes, reprising his 2003 performance, certainly fits that bill. Despite his conniving to get to the top of the World Wide Wicket Company, Holmes remains a guy we can relate to.

Thanks to a chance meeting with WWW President J.B. Biggley (Paul Fearn, in one of his best roles), Finch gets a position in the mail room, where he encounters Biggley’s nephew, the whining, lazy Bud Frump (Clocky McDowell), who has his own ideas about how to climb the corporate ladder, and it has everything to do with nepotism. McDowell succeeds in making Frump the guy you’d most like to root against.

Finch also gets a hand from secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Kay Hight), who immediately sets her hat for him and reveals that her only real goal in life is to find a husband for whom she will be “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” as he rises to the top.

Almost everyone in the cast gives a strong performance, particularly Eimi Taormina as Rosemary’s friend Smitty, and Andy Hyun, doing double duty as Mr. Twimble, the head of the mail room, and Wally Womper, the Chairman of the Board.

Gerald Shearman as the womanizing executive, Milton Gatch, and Scott Minor as the personnel manager, Bert Bratt, are particularly good in their roles.

Mary Young does not disappoint as Biggley’s secretary, Miss Jones, who takes a liking to Finch and helps him in his endeavors. Brittany Bickel does a wonderful job as Hedy LaRue, the femme fatale. (And you can buy a Hedy LaRue martini in the theater’s new bar in the lobby at intermission.)

There are wonderful production numbers such as “Coffee Break,” which most people probably can relate to, and “Brotherhood of Man.”

This is another hit for DMTC and is highly recommended.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Young Frankenstein

There is no mistaking a Mel Brooks musical. From the distinctive musical style to the off-color Catskill-esque humor (mostly involving male genitals), to the pompous soldier with the Hitler mustache to the leggy buxom blonds. It’s all there in “Young Frankenstein,” the current offering of the Broadway Sacramento series at the Community Center Theater.

“Young Frankenstein” is the musical which is based on the cult classic smash hit 1974 film of the same name. It reunites the production team of Mel Brooks (book, music and lyrics), Thomas Meehan (co-author of the book) and Susan Stroman (director and choreographer) who produced the wildly successful “The Producers,” also based on a movie by Brooks.

While “Young Frankenstein” does not match the cohesion of “The Producers” (which, at 12, won more Tony awards than any other show in history), and while much of its humor is lost to the muddle of the Community Center sound system, there is no denying that this show is a definite crowd pleaser.

The original Gene Wilder/Mel Brooks screenplay has been closely followed, and many of the songs are based on familiar lines from the movie (such as “Please Don’t Touch Me,” “Roll in the Hay” and “He Vas My Boyfriend”) and turned into full blown musical numbers. But the best musical number, by far, is by Irving Berlin: “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is done “straight” (or as straight as a duet between a scientist and a monster can be), and brings down the house when the duo are joined by the full cast, coming out in monster footwear and top hats, doing a kick-line, which never fails to win applause.

The corniness of the dialog is set early on when brilliant young scientist, Frederick Frankenstein (Franken-STEEN), having learned of the death of his famous relative, arrives by train on Track 29, and asks someone, “Pardon me, boy — is this the Transylvania station?” The tone is set for the rest of the show.

Christopher Ryan has the difficult task of making the iconic character of Frankenstein, so familiar to us from the Gene Wilder performance, his own. And he does. His Frankenstein is less of a mad scientist and more of an ordinary guy in unusual circumstances. He is likable more than zany, and his relationship with his assistant Inga (Synthia Link) is more that of two people in love than that of a lecherous man with an air-headed blonde. In fact, Inga herself is played more “straight” than off the wall, and her frisky foreplay in “Roll in the Hay” is very funny.

Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor (EYE-gore), is given a delicious portrayal by Cory English (who played the role on Broadway), who wants desperately to be scary, but who succeeds in just being cute.

Joanna Glushak is suitably creepy as Frau Blucher, the housekeeper of the elder Frankenstein’s castle, the very mention of whose name causes horses to shudder.

Janine Davita is deliciously over the top as Frederick’s narcissistic fiancee, who can’t be touched for fear of mussing her hair, make-up or freshly polished nails. All thoughts of untouchability, however, fly out the window when she meets the monster, who offers her “Deep Love” in the most suggestive song all evening.

As for the monster himself, Preston Truman Boyd is charming as he lurches his way around the stage trying to figure out who or what he is. He may be the most likable person in the cast. His scene with the blind hermit (David Benoit) displays his talent for physical comedy.

This is a show that seems to flow from corny joke to corny joke, many situations predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment.

Costume designer William Ivey Long provides some of the most amazing costume changes you’ll ever see. Set Designer Robin Wagner manages to create the creepiness of a Transylvania castle with its dungeon of secrets.

“The Producers” it isn’t, but “Young Frankenstein” has its own appeal and is an enjoyable evening.