A lesson in how to succeed at staging a creaky vintage musical comedy can be found in ICT Mainstage's current uncreaky production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. It's fresh, fun, funny. Everything works.
Musical director Scott A. Eckert's tight eight-piece pit band sounds lush, full of woodwinds and horns. Choreographer Megan Kelly Bates' shruggy, slouchy, twitchy choreography looks spiffy on the whole cast. Director Michael Serrecchia keeps it all clicking at a super-caffeinated pace. Best of all, it's musical comedy that delivers music and comedy. This is community theater, too, where everyone's working for pin money. And they're competing with attention heaped on the hot Broadway revival going on starring that Harry Potter kid and the tall guy from Night Court.
The stars in Irving are the local variety, but they're some of the best we've got. Playing the lead, ambitious corporate climber J. Pierrepont Finch, is young Max Swarner, who recently starred in Theatre Three's Pippin and has another role in common with Daniel Radcliffe; they've both played the troubled boy in Equus (Radcliffe did it on Broadway, Swarner at Uptown Players here). With How to Succeed ... , Swarner at last lands in a show where he can let loose. This kid's a cracking song-and-dance man with loads of charm, attributes that help keep his take on the Finch character from coming across as a ruthless creep.
Though really, that's what Finch is. A window washer with no experience inside an office building, Finch leapfrogs his way to an executive position with Manhattan's World Wide Wicket Company by using a self-help book (from the orchestra pit, Eckert's readings of the book's instructions are exceptionally droll). A likable, boyish hybrid, part Don Draper, part Donald Trump, Finch makes it to the top in just a few weeks by playing office politics better than anyone. His rapid rise infuriates the boss' snotty nephew, unctuous twerp Bud Frump (played with spot-on comic timing by TCU theater student Peter DiCesare). But it impresses the boss, J.B. Biggley (Jerry Crow), whose attention to business is distracted by another new hire, sexpot Hedy LaRue (Alexis Nabors, bumping and grinding in fine fashion).
Winner of the 1962 Pulitzer for drama, the show gleefully punctures the empty rhetoric of corporate board rooms and satirizes the questionable morals of titans of industry. Half a century old, some of the jokes by the book writers (Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert) have grown mossy. But Serrecchia glosses past those and has his cast throw more energy into the wry wit of Frank Loesser's zippy songs. (Not as zippy as Loesser's score for Guys and Dolls, but close.) Finch's love ballad, "I Believe in You," is adorably smug, sung to his reflection in the executive washroom mirror as all around him fellow desk-dweebs jockey for positions at the urinals.
Men run the world and women are there merely to serve them in this slice of American corporate history. Love interest Rosemary Pilkington (a kittenish Morgan Mabry Mason) is a member of the "steno pool" (anyone remember those?) who dreams of becoming a hausfrau. Her big number, "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm," reduces her character to human microwave, but we get her pre-Steinem drift. Cathy Pritchett and Stephanie Felton are well employed as the no-nonsense secretaries who unstick the wickets for the inept execs.
Everyone involved in this How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying deserves a bonus for working overtime.
Actors Paul Taylor, Ashley Puckett Gonzales, G. Shane Peterman, Gregory Hullett and Whitney Hennen, stars of Uptown Players' Victor/Victoria, are making a not-so-good musical into a fiercely entertaining farce by sheer force of will. These professionals give it all they've got. Directed by Cheryl Denson, who could make hospice hilarious if asked, they perform theatrical CPR on the unsingable score by Henry Mancini (lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) and the dead-on-arrival book by Blake Edwards.
Gonzales plays Victoria, a down-and-out singer who becomes a Parisian cabaret sensation when she dons male drag and then girl-drag on top of that. Her gay friend (Taylor) provides cover when a Chicago mobster (Peterman) finds himself attracted to "Victor," though he's convinced he/she's not really a man.
On an enormous revolving set by Rodney Dobbs that depicts Paris streets, nightclubs, a posh hotel and other locales, Victor/Victoria rolls along, and merrily, thanks to a cast that works together like a well-oiled machine.
Out at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, the man-eating plant of Little Shop of Horrors is starving for a good time. Everywhere else, this show's a doo-woppy musical spoof of scary B-movies of the 1950s. Here they're playing it like Don Giovanni. Only Alex Organ, as the sadistic dentist, seems to be in on the joke. Maybe the plant is, too, come to think of it. "Audrey II," as the huge piece of flora is nicknamed, knows Little Shop's scenery and cartoony characters are meant for chewing. Taking it all so seriously just makes the whole thing hard to swallow.
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