Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: 'How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying' Revival Banks at The Al Hirschfeld Theatre

Daniel Radcliffe performing "How to Succeed"
Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette
(all photos: Ari Mintz)
Daniel Radcliffe, star of the "Harry Potter" films, is gamely deposited on stage at the Al Hirshfeld Theatre in his Broadway musical debut. The actor sings, acts and dances and he has nothing to be embarrassed about. But as the marquee star of the 2011 revival of "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" he is far from the only reason to see the show.

John Larroquette and Tammy Blanchard
The winner of the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama and Tony Award for best musical the same year, the story inspired by the tome by Shepherd Mead tells of young window washer J. Pierrepont Finch (Radcliffe) as he is guided by an advice book called "How To Succeed in Business" and begins a rapid rise up the corporate ladder from the mail room to VP of advertising at the World Wide Wicket Company. His unusual career method and ambition jeopardizes his romance with secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Rose Hemingway) and all the while he has to fend off schemer Bud Frump (Christopher J. Hanke), keep his boss J.B. Biggley (John Larroquette) impressed and stop the advances of Biggley's mistress Hedy La Rue (Tammy Blanchard).

Radcliffe's voice is not a soaring tenor but so wasn't Matthew Broderick's who played the same role and won a Tony Award for his performance in the 1995 revival. Radcliffe does a more than capable job in his songs and more than holds his own in the athletic dance numbers. Though his take on Finch lacks the mischievous relish needed for the role, by default he keeps the audience on his side with the smiles his character displays at each luck of good fortune. By contrast to Broderick and Robert Morse who originated the role in 1962, Radcliffe's age at 21 years gives the impression of an upstart corporate climber.

Daniel Radcliffe and Tammy Blanchard
Rose Hemingway and Daniel Radcliffe
Radcliffe was overlooked for a Tony nomination but if there was an award for one of the hardest working performers on Broadway he would surely be in the running. The irony is he portrays a character that climbs the corporate ladder with no effort at all. Credit is also due for expanding his range and challenging himself with a musical theater project.

One of the major assets of the production is the strong supporting cast that often overshadows the diminutive lead star. None more so than Larroquette who towers over the entire cast physically and by his comic timing proving his Emmy-winning years doing situation comedy on television was no fluke. Gruff and amusing, he makes a welcome Broadway debut and in the process winning a featured actor Tony for the role earlier this month.

As Finch's love interest, Hemingway's Rosemary is pretty and sweet throughout the show. More beguiling is Blanchard who elevates her role with an unexpected comic flair for playing the bombshell mistress with a heart. Ellen Harvey as the dutiful and no-nonsense secretary to Larroquette's Biggely has several droll moments and gets to join the male company in one of the big production numbers.

The company
Christopher J. Hanke
Though Hanke is supposed to be the foil to Finch, he plays a fine line that keeps the character lovable but misguided in his career choices. His mugging in the show is purposeful and many of them priceless. Anderson Cooper joins the fun with his voice recording that guides Finch's corporate journey.

The tuneful and witty songs by Frank Loesser still amuse today and the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert (unaltered) is filled with sly humor as they satire the corporate world of the time. Bright spots in the score include Finch's self-affirming ballad "I Believe In You" and the rousing "Brotherhood of Man".

With Rob Ashford as both director and choreographer there was no doubt that exhilarating dance numbers would be prominent especially in the songs "Grand Old Ivy" and "Brotherhood of Man." But what Ashford does is send the willing Radcliffe to be the center of the dancing chorus. Radcliffe should be proud of the sweat on his forehead.

Rose Hemingway, Mary Faber and Daniel Radcliffe
Christopher J. Hanke (center) and the male ensemble.
The honeycomb set of the production design and costumes of pastels and grays captures the sixties without being distracting about it. It's like "Mad Men" the television series but with a bit more color but less sex appeal. One lost opportunity for the design team was the reveal and design of the "Paris Original" dress worn by the female ensemble.

With the popularity of "Mad Men" part of the current pop culture landscape, the values and sensibilities of the musical should come as no surprise. It's a work of its time so nobody should be groaning at the quaintness when Rosemary sings "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm." Ashford and his team maintains the irresistible charms of the classic musical throughout the evening.

It will be worthwhile to learn what next theater project will return Radcliffe to the stage. After taking a sharp turn to tackle this role I doubt he would be interested in "Harry Potter: The Musical." He's grown beyond that.


Daniel Radcliffe
More photos below.
Daniel Radcliffe and Ellen Harvey
Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette with the male company
perform "Grand Old Ivy".
Daniel Radcliffe and Rob Bartlett
Rose Hemingway
Christopher J. Hanke and Mary Faber wrestle for a cup in the
"Coffee Break" number.
Daniel Radcliffe 
Daniel Radcliffe and the company rehearsing the "Brotherhood
of Man" number.
Rose Hemingway and Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Radcliffe
Rose Hemingway


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