How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Posted by sean On June - 11 - 2011

Daniel Radcliffe looks fondly towards the horizon, seeing a future career without Harry Potter.


My friend and I arrived at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre as avid Harry Potter fans amped to see Daniel Radcliffe shed his decade-long persona.  It was the first time either of us had been to a Broadway play and we had no idea what to expect.  From the moment we took our seats, the promise of an experience vastly different from any movie screening filled us with excitement that only intensified in the minutes before the curtain opened.  But as the orchestra began the 50’s jazzy overture, we were as yet unaware of how captivating the show was going to be.


How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying fires on all cylinders from the opening number and continues to astound all the way through to the grand finale.  While it is fifty years since its inception and is filled with traits of that period, from the wardrobe to the character archetypes, it feels relevant now.  Amplifying the idea of “it’s who you know, not what you know,” it satirizes what is considered today a difficult field in which to get ahead and makes it the easiest thing in the world to ascend in as it follows J. Pierrepont Finch (Daniel Radcliffe) and his climb up the corporate ladder, using his charm, wit, and a handy self-help book from which the play derives its name.  Employing the book’s ingredients for success, Finch rises up in the ranks by gaining popularity with his co-workers and superiors, including company president J. B. Biggley (John Larroquette), while also attracting the attention of a lovely secretary and the boss’s conniving nephew.


Radcliffe sings and dances away all traces of the Boy Who Lived, fully embodying Finch’s youthful ambition to scale the mountain of business and reach its peak.  He has proven himself more than adept to handle the demanding task of a musical, shedding a bright light on his career beyond this past decade.  Also headlining the richly talented cast is John Larroquette, who is fun to watch as Mr. Biggley with his stern, yet goofy demeanor spliced with youthful vigor when performing his own numbers.  Making her Broadway debut, Rose Hemingway plays Finch’s love interest, Rosemary Pilkington.  She’s sweet and lovable as a woman who just wants to be with her one-and-only, and more than once, she delivers an entire musical number by herself and does so flawlessly.  Rounding out the main characters in Finch’s life is Christopher J. Hanke, playing the boss’s nephew, Bud Frump.  He is the epitome of a slimy, mischievous business man, even though he is performs poorly at his job while equally adept at sabotaging the jobs of others.  Hanke revels in his character’s devious, childish nature, delivering multiple laughs for every step he takes and every note he belts out.


Though as talented as the entire cast is, it’s director Rob Ashord who amazes the most with his ability to weave every bit of detail into a tightly-knit production.  How to Succeed works like one big clock as props maneuver in and out of the stage amidst complex routines from a vast crew of performers.  Ashord’s choreography fits each number’s subject in their own unique way and never feels as if the actors are only repeating the same thing over and over.  He incorporates simple, mundane activities, like organizing mail or getting coffee, into interpretive, yet wacky dance moves that feel like you’re watching a circus act.  One such number is Radcliffe and Larroquette’s duet about college football with their dancing taking the form of practice drill and game-winning plays.  Framing all of this is the work of the set and costume designers.  They managed to create a 1950s atmosphere with lavish outfits for everyone and scenery with multiple pieces sliding into the spotlight, from a desk to a three-story tall office interior, that keep a dynamic flow from one scene to the next.


As a fun and wonderfully immersive presentation, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a glass of good scotch.  It will pull you in, keep you laughing from the opening song, and when it’s all over, you will want to go back for another round.

- Sean

My friend and I

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