If you need anything to shake off this winter's doldrums and snow, you can do no better than ride out to the Olney Theatre Center and enjoy its newest production, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, which will warm you up, for sure.
Oh, what a lot of fun it is! Two hours and 40 minutes? No way!
It was originally produced in 1961, but the theme (and means) of climbing to the top are timeless, and what a lark to see men in suits attended by secretaries in full skirts pecking away at typewriters and following their bosses around like puppies.
It's a fast moving musical with laughs galore and terrific dancing. Men are a'kickin' and high steppin' more than the women in this show with songs not real familiar, but what does it matter with splendid choreography (by Tommy Rapley) and perfectly unified red ties and hankies in jacket pockets flying all together now.
Using a self-help book entitled How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying to guide him to the top of the heap, young J. Pierrepont Finch (Sam Ludwig) enters the business world, starting in the mail room at the World Wide Wicket Company on Park Avenue, where he first encounters the Big Boss's nephew, Bud Frump (Dan Van Why), who is always jealous of promotions and ascendancy.
In the first act Finch is something of a goody-goody while he learns his way around, but his pretense is quickly shed as he begins to climb. The second act really brings out the best in Mr. Ludwig's performance as he grasps "how it's done."
But it is nephew Frump (whose name epitomizes his person) who steals the show with his greased-up hairdo, mannerisms, and delivery. His shoes (costuming by Seth Gilbert) give impetus to his character, an obnoxious mama's boy who cries every time he doesn't get his way. Have you ever worked with one of those?
Did anyone mention sex?
What's a show without sex? Dull.
Naturally, romances develop and Rosemary (Angela Miller) chases Finch from the get-go. Her apparel and demeanor reminded me of a pollyanna throughout the play, too good and kind to be attractive to most men. Will she ever get her man?
It is blonde bombshell Hedy La Rue (Colleen Hayes) bearing a striking resemblance to femme fatale, Marilyn Monroe (who died in 1962) who ignites flames late in the first act when she makes her way on stage in flamboyant costume, accompanied by flashy strip-tease music. She is, of course, the girlfriend of the married Big Boss, J. B. Biggley (Lawrence Redmond).
Mr. Biggley's secretary, Ms. Jones or "Jonesie" as he calls her (Sherri L. Edelen), is another show stealer, a storm trooper, who crosses the stage often in her buttoned man suit and librarian shoes, barking orders until she, too, is captured by Mr. Finch's flattering words which succeed in helping him in his race to the top.
Whenever a new idea to stroke higher-ups occurs to Finch, lights dim, action halts, and with perfect timing, a bell rings at the instant a spotlight shines on his very brow nose, and he turns to the audience with a smirk and a smile, and the play resumes.
Spectacular lighting (by Joel Moritz) and set design (by James Dardenne with sound by Jeff Dorfman) contribute to the effects of this solidly entertaining show. A silhouette of skyscrapers with changing sky and darkened buildings outlined in lights serves as backdrop. Lights along hallways cast shadows and give the premises a truly office feel which, with spiraling circular staircase, quickly becomes the mail room, the board room, the elevator, and a subway entrance.
Adding immense enjoyment is the music, orchestrated by Christopher Youstra and led by Doug Lawler, also the pianist. Occasional flat horns from the nine-member group drew slight attention.
International star Ian McKellen, who presented a solo show at the Olney in 1987, is the recorded narrator for How To Succeed. You may see him on stage now, on Broadway's No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot.
Jason Loewith directed How To Succeed. Other cast members are MaryLee Adams, Kurt Boehm, Maggie Donnelly, George Dvorsky, Aileen Goldbert, Ashleigh King, Bryan Knowlton, David Landstrom, Allie Parris, Taylor Elise Rector, Chris Rudy, Harry A. Winter, and Jim Petosa.
How to Succeed is a good culture lesson for young folks about yesteryear's world of business and the roles men and women played and the way they dressed. Stepping on anything that gets in the way and stealing ideas on the way to the top of the pile, sigh, remain the same.
The play is based on the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert who used the 1952 book of the same name by Shepherd Mead. Frank Loesser wrote the music and lyrics. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1962 and seven Tony Awards.
Helen Hayes' nominations:
Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical
Outstanding Lighting Designer, Resident Production: Joel Moritz
Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical: Dan Van Why
What: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
When: Extended through March 2, 2014
Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832
How much: Tickets start at $31.
For more information: 301-924-3400
For more area productions and reviews, click DC Metro Theater Arts.
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