'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' rewards audience

If you're planning a jaunt to New York City to see the revival of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying next month, save your money.

You can see a just as good, if not better, production of this totally delightful musical at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson, matinees and evenings through Feb. 27, and not have to fight snowstorms or risk sleeping on an airport carpet.

Show Palace artistic director/director Matthew McGee chose a perfect cast and then drove them as relentlessly as a hard-charging corporate executive to deliver a nonstop, over-the-top spoof of corporate immorality, skulduggery, manipulation, duplicity, and self-service that rivals the serious take on the subject by AMC's Mad Men.

The Abe Burrows/Frank Loesser musical of corporate high jinks is as timely today as when it was written, with creative accounting, corporate kiss-ups, lecherous bosses, hard-working secretaries and rampant cynicism ruling the day.

It's the tale of how the ambitious window washer J. Pierrepont Finch (a brilliant Michael S. Miller) tricks, wheedles and cajoles his way up the ladder, charmingly shifting blame for mistakes and taking unearned credit for triumphs, while always putting himself first.

In true Mad Men style, the woman who falls for Finch, the lovely receptionist Rosemary Pilkington (an adorable Anna Kimmell), happily sacrifices her whole self to Finch's ambition, merrily singing she's Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm while he schmoozes it up at the office and looks right through her when he comes home because he's thinking about work. And, in true 1960s form, she comes to resent all that.

Along the way, McGee's cast plays each scene to the hilt, with over-the-top physical humor, mugging and double-takes, aided by choreographer Donna Scheer's stylized, mod dance moves, especially in Coffee Break, and Tom Hansen's lightning-fast lighting.

Scott Daniel is a darling as the big boss' lazy, inept nephew, Bud Frump, never missing a chance for a head toss, eye roll or maniacal laugh to underscore his outrageous behavior toward his rival, Finch. Rick Kistner's pompous take on Big Boss J.B. Biggley is flagrantly funny, as he ogles the sexy Hedy LaRue (a provocative Erin Romero) and avoids phone calls from his wife.

James Middleton is a hoot as the obsequious underling Bert Bratt, bravely challenging Biggley until it's time to say, "You're absolutely right, boss" with great enthusiasm. Lisa Butler's take on Biggley's truly competent secretary Miss Jones is terrific, and her contribution to the big number Brotherhood of Man is unforgettable.

Pete Clapsis is marvelous as Twimble, the mail room supervisor who has kept his job for a quarter century by doing it The Company Way, and, later, as Womper, the gritty chairman of the board. Susan Haldeman is a likeable scene-stealer as the all-too-knowing secretary Smitty.

Loesser's words and music set the pace and theme, with rousing production numbers like A Secretary Is Not a Toy and Grand Old Ivy followed by sweet love tunes like Rosemary and I Believe in You, and the sweetly scathing look at tawdry office affairs, Love From a Heart of Gold (note Kistner's body language in this one). This pacing allows the audience to catch its breath and appreciate each twist and turn in the story.

The script and music are the bones of this show, but it takes the right performers and performances to flesh it out and make it come alive, and this 22-member cast does that and then some.

The Tampa Bay area has seen some less-than-appealing renditions of H2$ in recent years, but that shouldn't discourage anyone from going to see this version. The interpretation makes all the difference, and McGee and company interpret this one just right. This production is in the same league as the Show Palace's Chicago, Singin' in the Rain, and La Cage aux Folles and rewards theatergoers at the same level, perhaps even higher. What a triumph.

.Fast facts

If you go

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, matinees and evenings at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, 16128 U.S. 19, Hudson. Dinner and show, $48; show only, $36.95, plus tax and tip; 12 and younger, $28.45 and $23.45. Call (727) 863-7949 in west Pasco; toll-free elsewhere at 1-888-655-7469.

'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' rewards audience 01/08/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 1:05pm]

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