Review by Danny Gaisin
Editorial disclaimer: – see end of article!
It is almost a definition of musical or dramatic theatre that there is always a character whose role is pivotal and thus interpretation is paramount to its realization. Nowhere is this tautology more evidential than that of J. Pierrepont (or Pierpont) Finch in the 1961 Burrows/Weinstock/Gilbert book ‘HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING’. This allegorical story about a young man’s corporate rise is a Machiavellian ‘Horatio Alger’. The addition of Frank Loesser’s lyrics and compositions made it a multiple Tony Award™ winner; N.Y. Drama Critics Circle prize; and a Pulitzer.
Theatre Sheridan director Sheila McCarthy plus choreographer Julie Tomaino have staged a comedic gem that showcases the standard of thespian excellence this group of third & fourth-year students have achieved.
Based on a tongue-in-cheek story by Shepherd Mead, the plot parodies all those ‘do-it-yourself’ self-help shelve fillers that glut book stores. From choosing a company; to getting hired; promoted from mail-room to junior executive; each rung is outlined with recommendations as to which Machiavellian maneuver will best accomplish goal realization. A subplot is the requisite love story. HTSIBWRT deliciously covers both with élan. McCarthy is either a micromanager down to the most minute detail; or else, professional enough to allow her character interpreters a loose enough rein to project the very essence of their portrayals. I’d bet it’s the latter! J.P. Finch is the clichéd “little guy makes good”, and Joel Cumber encapsulates the very spirit and ethos of such an individual…both in in representation and a fortunate physical semblance. Cumber’s asides to the audience when fortune smiles are blatantly underlined with a 1,000-watt glint that captures an almost visceral joy at his hoped-for realizations. His singing voice is not just tonally faultless, his diction and lyric emphasis make him an eponymous example of the “LGMG” genus. This young man also can dance up a storm.
His female co-star is secretary ‘Rosemary Pilkington’, and her impact is more than just love interest…she’s a helpmate as well as an icon for all the long-suffering single office girls. Contributing in full measure, Julia Vos has a bell-clear soprano voice with seemingly unlimited range that reflects her twinkling facial expressions and posturing. The anti-hero is Ben Cookson whose ‘Bud Frump’ is the president’s nephew. Cookson can project every image from sycophant to a ‘Snidely Whiplash’ manipulative villain. He and his machinations are pivotal and Cookson milks the role for all its worth. The J.B. Biggly; CEO of fictitious ‘World Wide Wicket’ and Dave Comeau imparts all the humorous facets of every person achieving the level designated by the so-called ‘Peter Principle’. His being over-maneuvered by Finch are occasions for most those eye & face flashes-of -triumph that manifest the play.
Solid support is given by Benjamin Doncom who heads the mail room. His paean to survival: – ‘Company Way’ is one of the most memorable arias in the play. Doncom’s appropriately posturing reflects his role. Interestingly, his resemblance & mannerisms evoke “Scorpion’s” Ari Stidham’s ‘Sylvester’. Two other strong support roles are provided by Fay Gamliel as Rosemary’s sidekick – ‘Smitty’ and Robyn Ord who plays Miss Jones – the imposing secretary to the president.
McCarthy and Tomaino have made all the chorus numbers superlative examples of the category with the humorous aspect seemingly- ‘Job 1’. Such numbers as ‘Coffee Break’ with its abrupt changes from major to minor key; the ‘Company Way’ reprise; the hilarious ‘Paris Original’ spoof on individuality and especially the supposed TV show bit ‘Pirate Dance’ are only outdone by the almost-thematic ‘Brotherhood of Man’. Guaranteed, audiences will be humming the latter all the way home. The set is clever and (almost) authentic; the orchestra under Callum Morris is faultless and the technical facets as professional as possible. Looks like Sheridan may repeat last year’s O.A.R. Top Ten hat trick, given that ‘Footloose’ & this ‘How To Succeed’ presentations are both contenders for 2017.
Don’t miss this amazing & skilled offering that runs until April 23rd; but be prepared to overlook the unsubtlety of such hints As.” J.P.”(as in Morgan); W.W.W. (as in you know what) and certainly Ovington’s initials- BBDO (as in the world’s largest Ad company!)
*Now the disclaimer*
Mid July 1963, on our honeymoon’s 2nd week; the muse & I were in NYC. Drawing on a scalping contact; I arranged tickets to ‘Never Too Late” & “HOW TO SUCCEED etc. with Rudy Vallee & Robert Morse. We loved both and ‘Succeed’ has held a special place in our life memoir. So, if the above seems somewhat biased – So be it! Sorry.