Saturday, June 4, 2016

Theater Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying -- CT Repertory

Sarah Schenkkan, Riley Costello, Fred Grandy, and Tina Fabrique. Photo by Matt Pugliese
CT Rep Succeeds Nicely in the Business of Opening the Summer Nutmeg Series
By Lauren Yarger
An oft-produced musical gets a solid production here at CT Repertory to kick off the Nutmeg Summer Series.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying features a strong cast: “The Love Boat”’s Fred Grandy (a substitute for the originally announced Charles Shaughnessy), Riley Costello (whose Broadway stardust lit up the stage here last year as Peter Pan), the fabulous Tina Fabrique (who is hosting this year’s CT Critics Circle Awards) and the lovely-voiced Sarah Schenkkan, who appeared last year at CT Rep in Guys and Dolls.

All of them, and a large, able, supporting cast, are directed by CT Rep Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal (who just announced he will be leaving UConn at the conclusion of the summer series to accept the position of Chair of the Department of Musical Theatre and Professor of Music, School of Music Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan.)

Costello is mischievous and engaging as J. Pierpont Finch, an ambitious window washer who wants to climb the corporate ladder. He follows advice given in a book titled “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (voiced by local radio personality Colin McEnroe) to make his way up to the top one rung at a time. Before long, the scheming Finch finds himself besting colleagues for promotions at the World Wide Widget company and getting tight with its head JB Biggley (Grandy).
Colleagues dealing with Finch along the way are played by Steve Hayes (Twimble/Womper), John Bixler (Bert Bratt), Adria Swan (Smitty), Chester Martin (Gatch). Jacob Burns (Jenkins), Ty Taylor (Tackaberry), Madison Coppola (Miss Krumholtz), Ross Thompson (Mr. Davis) and Dalton Bertolone (Ovington).

This farce wouldn’t be complete without some complications, of course. One of “Ponty”’s chief rivals is nerdy Bud Frump (Robert Fritz), who just happens to be Biggley’s nephew, and the boss’s mistress, Hedy LaRue (a laugh-getting, bosom jingling Ariana Shore) who is masquerading as a secretary at the company, takes a liking to young Finch. That doesn’t go over well with Rosemary (Schenkkan), a real secretary, who has decided that Finch is the man of her dreams even if he is distracted by his get-ahead schemes.

Schenkkan’s lovely voice is the only thing that makes us want to sit through Frank Loesser’s irritating, stereotypical lyrics in songs like “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm:”

I'll be so happy to keep his dinner warm
While he goes onward and upward
Happy to keep his dinner warm
'Til he comes wearily home from downtown

I'll be there waiting until his mind is clear
While he looks through me, right through me
Waiting to say, "Good evening, dear, I'm pregnant
What's new with you from downtown?"

I have to wonder why theaters keep thinking shows like this are worthy of revival (even Broadway gave How to Succeed a run in 2011 starring Daniel Radcliffe.) I doubt a person of color singing about how much they were looking forward to a future as a servant to a white person. or something in that vein, would go over today, even if that was the way things were in 1961, but apparently we are expected to brush aside prejudices when they focus on women.

The Loesser tunes are pleasant, but with titles like “Brotherhood of Man,” “Cinderella, Darling” and “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” do you get my drift? Note to artistic directors everywhere: There are lots of other good musicals deserving of a second life. Do a little homework and find one that doesn’t demean over half of your audience. But I digress…..

One woman who doesn’t take any grief in this production is Miss Jones (Fabrique), Mr. Biggley’s secretary. And getting to hear the singer let go with some scat in one of the tunes is a treat.
Talented Costello, who has received a CT Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for his turn in Peter Pan, takes command of the CT Rep stage again and wins the audience. His performance here, by the way, is better than Radcliffe’s was on Broadway.

Also entertaining is choreography by Cassie Abate who puts through their paces the cast, colorfully clothed in period costume by Christina Lorraine Bullard. One number, where Costello shows his physical prowess, has him dancing all over a couch, and he and a bunch of the male chorus step into a rousing tap dance number as well.

On the technical side, Tim Brown designs the set (and projection designs) – those blue/green honeycomb patterns put me in mind of one of the other numerous productions of this musical I have seen recently. Lighting Design by Michael Chybowski is spot on, so to speak, but there is some static in the sound designed by Michael Vincent Skinner.

How to Succeed plays through June 12 at the Harriet S, Jorgenson Theatre on the UConn Storrs campus. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm. Matinees at 2 pm Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets $12 to $55:; (860) 486-2113.

Brian Binion, Gerald Caesar, Elizabeth Brady, Rebekah Morgan Berger, Pearl Matteson, Janayla Montes, Ross Alessandro Gian  Viviano…. Ensemble

Additional credits:  
Technical Direction by John W. Parmelee, Musical Direction by John Pike, Assistant Musical Direction by Paul Feyer. 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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