Saturday, April 2, 2011

WLS Theater Review: "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"

A hilarious and uplifting Broadway classic has returned to the Al Hirschfeld Theater, with a cast that's almost too good to be true and a timeless message that is surprisingly relevant in 2011. As a Pulitzer prize winner which has been revived twice in 15 years, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is something of an American theater war horse. The music is sometimes romantic, sometimes comedic, and always fun. The book is fast-paced, clever, and witty. And the performances are just as charming, spirited, and silly as they ought to be for a sixties-era socially satirical musical comedy—and then some. A crowd-pleaser with something for everyone, this production of How to Succeed may be the best bet on Broadway right now for all those out-of-town friends and relatives. Moreover, it is definitely a must-see if you're a fan of any of the lead actors—and with the extraordinary celebrity heft of this cast, almost everyone is “in love with” at least one of them!

Frank Loesser ("Guys and Dolls," the Academy Award-winning song "Baby it's Cold Outside") delivers several novelty numbers ("Coffee Break," "Paris Original") that are funny and adorable (and appropriately brief). These he balances with a few grand love songs ("Rosemary," "Love From a Heart of Gold") that are somehow both camp and sincere—an impressive feat with a rather modern sensibility. The show is packed with romance (that never takes itself too seriously) and hijinks (that don't overpower the storyline) but, for the most part, it admittedly lacks those bits that might stand alone or stop the show. The one exception is “Brotherhood of Man”, which just may have you dancing in the aisles, regardless of the production.

The book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert is surprisingly funny for a show that turns fifty this October. Tons of jokes, many about workplace harassment, management strategy, and office romance, have, for the most part, aged remarkably well, arming the leads with lots of great gags to exploit. However, there is also a moral to this raucous story, one that is lighthearted in its presentation but also rather moving, especially in this age of high unemployment and endemic layoffs. As with the music, the book is versatile, playful, and engaging. Together, they soft-sell the satire with a sweet jocularity that is refreshing in juxtaposition to the more confrontational (and sometimes crass) style of socially relevant comedy from more recent years.

"How to Succeed" is, in any event, a solid show that has aged well. But should you go back if you already saw it in 1997—or even 1951? Or if you're not a big musical comedy fan? Absolutely—for four reasons: Daniel Radcliffe as J. Pierrepont Finch; John Larroquette as J. B. Biggley; Michael Park as Mr. Bratt and Tammy Blanchard as Heddy La Rue.

The two male leads are so clearly having a ball with their characters that they somehow achieve the near-impossible: for most of the show, it's actually very easy to see past Radcliffe as Harry Potter and Larroquette as, well... John Larroquette. Furthermore, the chemistry between the two frequently transforms a funny line into a hilarious moment. There are even a few new, tasty comic morsels that are somewhat specific to these two A-listers. While not known for their singing, both take full advantage of the leeway provided by their characters (after all, they're supposed to be silly, singing suits) and some of Finch's music is rewired to assist Radcliffe. The final result is entirely respectable, if not fantastic. Their dance numbers, however, are a riot, especially the epic “Brotherhood of Man” and the gut-busting "Grand Old Ivy." Powered by scads of celebrity charisma, their central May-December bromance is an exuberantly wild and crazy ride from start to finish.

Blanchard and Park also pull off a bit of a miracle—they shine just as bright at their headlining cast-mates, even though Heddy and Bratt aren't really written as leads (although the role was beefed up a bit for Park). Blanchard, who was nominated for a Tony for her role in "Gypsy: A Musical Fable" and won an Emmy for her role in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, is perhaps best known as GUIDING LIGHT's spoiled rich girl, Drew Jacobs. Heddy, the deceptively ambitious and absurdly saucy office bombshell, is supposed to be over-the-top, and Blanchard delivers with an earsplitting accent, a clown's face, and a hypersexual gait. She is always the focus of attention from her on-stage officemates, and the audience can't look away from her, either.

As half of one of Daytime's most legendary couples, the Emmy-award winning Park is, of course, well known as Jack Snyder from AS THE WORLD TURNS. After thirteen years portraying romance and heartbreak (and romance, and heartbreak...) it is something of a revelation to experience Park in an all-out comedy. Although, perhaps, a bit young to be cast as a senior executive, Park aces the role, providing an engaging (and necessary) straight-man. As with Larroquette, Radcliffe, and Blanchard, Park's powerful presence and enticing watchability serve to enhance his scenes, punching up the funny or even adding some subtle, new schtick. AS THE WORLD TURNS fans do not want to miss the chance to experience this side of Michael Park.

Other notable performances include Anderson Cooper as the narrator, a role originated by Walter Cronkite; Christopher J. Hanke as the flamboyantly devious Bud Frumb; and Ellen Harvey, whose Miss Jones serves one key role—launching the finale into the stratosphere. She almost over-delivers, nailing the high notes and nearly injuring herself with the choreography! Just one last example of what makes this "How to Succeed" a gem--a tremendous cast that transforms an American standard into an hysterically entertaining event.

Here's the S.A.S.S. (Short Attention Soap Summary):
WHAT IS IT: "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," a classic American musical comedy in its second revival on Broadway.
WHY SOAP FANS WILL LOVE IT: Enchanting and hilarious performances by GUIDNG LIGHT's Tammy Blanchard (Drew Jacobs) and AS THE WORLD TURNS' MICHAEL PARK (Jack Snyder).
BOTTOM LINE: From business humor to sappy ballads, from superstar actors to Pulitzer-prizewinning writing, this How to Succeed has something for everyone.
VERDICT: The closest thing to a guaranteed good time on Broadway—no matter who you are. Make it your business to get tickets today!

Kevin Mulcahy Jr. is a staff contributor at


  1. Sounds great! I'm happy that Michael Park has transitioned to Broadway. I hope this leads to the new career he wants and deserves.

  2. I saw the show in March and Michael Park does a fantastic job and I got another autograph from him after the show. I had one from one of the ATWT luncheons. He is excited to be on the show and you could tell when he talked to the fans. I only went to the show because of Michael and thoroughly enjoyed the entire show. I hope everyone on Broadway and the world knows what the ATWT fans have known for 13 years...that Michael Park is an exceptional actor. I hope he continues in Broadway because he really seems to enjoy it.

  3. I loved Tammy Blanchard on GL. Would like to see this show in June when I'm in NYC.

  4. Heading to NYC in May & my wife LOVES Michael Park--maybe too much. Thought this was an old show with nothing in it for me, now I think, maybe we'll see it when we;'re in town. Good review.