note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone
Theatre by the Sea's fourth show of their 79th season is "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". The musical first opened on Broadway in October, 1961, ran 1,417 performances, won seven Tony Awards and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The show is about J. Pierrepont Finch, a young window cleaner in New York City, who has a mind for advancement. A "Book Voice" tells him that everything he needs for success is contained within the book in his hand, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". Finch enters the World Wide Wicket Company searching for a job. The audience observes how he climbs up the ladder of success, going from lowly window washer to high-powered executive. Tackling familiar, but potent dangers, such as aggressively compliant "company men," the boss' whiny nephew, the office party, backstabbing co-workers, caffeine addiction and, of course, true love. Director Lennie Watts infuses this show with high energy,musical director Justin Cowan not only plays lead keyboards for the show but taught the cast the intricate score. The superb dance numbers by choreographer Chris Saunders are all terrific with "Coffee Break", "A Secretary is Not a Toy" and "The Brotherhood of Man" standing out.
Lennie does a wonderful job directing the show from blocking to the clever 1960's shtick of the era and brings his gift as a comic actor into accomplishing his goals. The pacing of the first act needs to be picked up, running an hour forty minutes. Radio personality Mike Maino does the voice of the book. Justin's orchestra is topnotch and makes the cast sound wonderful in their numbers. Chris' dance numbers stop the show with their excellent execution by this talented cast. The standout numbers are the "Brotherhood of Man", "Company Way" and the "Ground Hog dance to "Old Ivy". Chris choreographed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Full Monty at TBTS and did a terrific job on them.
Erik Keiser is marvelous as J. Pierrepont Finch. He has a fantastic tenor voice which he uses in "How to Succeed", the duets, "The Company Way" and "Rosemary" and the choral numbers "I Believe in You" and "The Brotherhood of Man". This latter song stops the show and is done in the aisles of the theatre at curtain call.Erik shows how Finch uses his charm and wits to get ahead in the company and also demonstrates his softer side when he finally falls for Rosemary. He captures the essence of this character with ease and delivers the tongue twisting dialogue beautifully. Melissa Robinette plays Finch's girlfriend, Rosemary. She displays her voice in "Happy to Keep his Dinner Warm'' where Rosemary yearns for a relationship with Finch, in "Paris Original" where she tries to seduce him with her new dress and the final realization of love in "Rosemary" where they finally get together as well as in the poignant reprise of "I Believe in You".
Adding to the merriment of the show are the three biggest scene stealers. Tony Triano as the boss, J.B.Biggley, Derek Johnson as the slimy, sneaky, Bud Frump, and Bianca Denis as the Betty Boop, dumb blonde, Hedy La Rue. Tony is very funny as the constantly swearing, exasperated head of the company. He uses a comical voice and terrific facial expression to keep the laughs coming. Tony displays his singing voice with Erik in "The Old Ivy" which is hysterical. Derek is hilarious as the brat nephew who is always trying to get promoted by calling his mother to intervene with J.B. His manic performance keeps everyone in stitches and he steals almost every scene he's in. Derek's topnotch voice is heard in a trio with Tony and Bianca and the chorus called "Been a Long Day" where their voices blend in glorious harmony with the chorus finishing it with a big crescendo. He also has his own version of "Coffee Break" and "The Company Way". I reviewed Derek in three shows at TBTS last year, "Man of La Mancha", "Hairspray" and "The Drowsy Chaperone". He was terrific as one of the comic gangsters in "Drowsy", showing how adept he is at playing funny characters. Derek delivers a tour-de-force performance in this comic role. Bianca is a hoot as this dimbulb and uses a dumb blonde, Jackee like loud voice and sexy movements to capture the essence of this character. Her interactions with the male characters are a pleasure to watch. Bianca and Tony have the prettiest ballad in the show called "Love from a Heart of Gold". Bianca is wonderful as this slinky vixen.
Other comic performers include A'lisa D. Miles as Miss Jones who sings the obligato jazz section in "Brotherhood of Man" stopping the show, Alison Nusbaum as Smitty who sings "Coffee Break", "Paris Original" and "Cinderella Darling", Todd Berkich as Bratt who sings "A Secretary is Not a Toy" with the chorus dancing to it and Steve Gagliastro who plays Twimble sings "The Company Way", plays Ovington, doing an hilarious chipmunk dance and as the chairman of the board, Wally Womper sings "Brotherhood of Man". He uses a high pitched voice as Womper which sounds like Curly Howard. I had fun playing Womper back in 1988. The gorgeous 1960's costumes are by David Cabral.
A word of praise to Duane and Karleen Crowe of the Bistro by the Sea. I enjoyed a delicious dinner of Sole Francaise, mashed potatoes and summer squash with out of this world Key Lime Pie for dessert. So for a wonderful rendition of this show be sure to catch "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at the historic Theatre-by-the-Sea.