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Tuesday, 05 April 2011 19:16

Broadway Review: HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING

Written by
Rose Hemingway, Daniel Radcliffe and the Cast Rose Hemingway, Daniel Radcliffe and the Cast Photo: Ari Mintz
Rob Ashford's 50th anniversary production of How To Success in Business Without Really Trying is crisp and stylish. It stars the former boy wizard of the “Harry Potter” franchise,  Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch, or Ponty, the ambitious young man who goes from window-washer to corporate executive using a few easy steps in his self-help book "How to Succeed in Business" (as read by Anderson Cooper).

I saw Radcliffe in the disturbing role of the horse-blinding troubled teen in Equus and was impressed with his performance. While you see his potential here, he is not as confident in this role. Considering his age and lack of experience with the musical form though, Radcliffe is actually outstanding.  There were times I could watch his hands and tell his mind was wondering what to do with them. Radcliffe deemed himself "not a dancer" in a recent Playbill article and yet he never seems more at ease than when he's dancing with the chorus. He is with them beat for beat.

Rose Hemingway, in her Broadway debut, is Ponty's love interest Rosemary Pillkington, a secretary at World Wide Wickets and a woman on the hunt for a husband.  In “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” she pines for the man for whom she will sit patiently and wait while he comes "home from downtown."  This is one area where this show feels creaky.  Ms. Hemingway gave a lovely performance although I found it slightly bland.  In all honesty, the character itself isn't one of my favorites in musical theatre and much of my complaint could be attributed to that.

TV and film's John Larroquette makes an hilarious Broadway debut (“better late than never” as he says in his bio) as the big boss J.B. Biggley, the head of World Wide Wickets.   His comedic timing is brilliant.  At one point Mr. Larroquette tripped on a line. It broke his concentration and you could see him drop out of character ever so briefly before catching himself.  He recovered quickly and almost seamlessly.  

As Biggley’s nephew and Ponty’s nemesis , Christopher J. Hanke is delicious as the conniving and inept Bud Frump.  Tammy Blanchard is marvelous as Biggley’s hotsy-totsy mistress who worms her way into the steno pool thanks to nepotism. Ms. Blanchard can get a laugh simply by moving a single facial muscle.  Ellen Harvey is commanding as Biggley’s brassy secretary, Ms. Jones.

When How to Succeed in Business... premiered in 1961 it won the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Musical.  With music by Frank Loesser and a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, the musical can, at times, feel dated (as in the aforementioned “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm”) but Rob Ashford and his team make this production feel like they just took the wrapper off it.  

Derek McLane has designed a magnificent honeycomb inspired set that sparkles, Catherine Zuber’s pastel-colored costumes are gorgeous and Doug Besterman’s orchestrations give the score a fresh new sound.  

The real star of this show though is Mr. Ashford’s regimented choreography.  The original 1961 production had musical staging by Bob Fosse.  Mr. Ashford has not recreated Mr. Fosse’s choreography but he is seemingly channeling him with every wrist-snap and hip pop.  “Coffee Break” and “Grand Old Ivy” are show-stoppers.    

While Daniel Radcliffe may not be able to match Robert Morse, the original J. Pierrepont Finch, he holds his own and shows the promise of having staying power on Broadway.  I look forward to watching the career of this talented young man.  

Additional Info

  • Theatre: The Al Hirschfeld Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 302 West 45th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Musical
  • Previews:: February 26, 2011
  • Opening Night: March 27, 2011
  • Closing: Open-Ended
Last modified on Tuesday, 05 April 2011 20:04