We begin this play following ambitious window washer J. Pierrepont Finch (Toby Waterworth), as he stumbles upon the titular instructional manual, 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'. The satirical guide lands Finch in numerous tricky situations, but always ensures he comes out on top. This entertaining rise forces the audience to question, in between bouts of laughter, how such a stupendously rapid rise to the top of the corporate ladder can be sustained.
The musical by Frank Loesser (also known for Guys and Dolls) is played straight by director Josh Cleary. This brave move exposes the sexism of the past – all the women are secretaries and men businessmen. However, the move pays off as the musical manages to be humorous and entertaining, whilst respecting that past gender treatments were far from what they are today. The tuneful singing and cohesive acting displayed Cleary’s strong choice of cast, and talented stage managers enabled smooth transitions between scenes.
Unfortunately, whilst youthful and energetic, the production certainly lost momentum as the mid-point of the musical came around. From here the outcome seemed obvious, and Finch appeared increasingly shallow through his obsession with the corporate world. The addition of Rachel-Marie Weiss, who portrayed the delightful Rosemary, was an apparent attempt to show an emotional depth to Finch’s character but this did not work particularly well. This perhaps suggests a problem with the play itself, as the acting of both Waterworth and Weiss was convincing. Fortunately, the exuberance of Joe Pieri, who portrayed the childish and immature Bud Frump, nephew of the President of the Worldwide Wicket Company, ensured the play remained engaging, and kept the audience in a constant state of laughter whenever he was on stage.
The design team should be rewarded for their production of the set and lighting, which not only emulated the classic 1960s office but also reminded us of the origins of the musical on Broadway. The band added to this vibe and dramatically increased the value of the production, allowing the viewer to be fully immersed in the music.
The youthful revival of this musical exceeded my expectations and was a thoroughly enjoyable watch: the entire production should be proud of their achievement. Running until this Saturday, this delightful show is a must-see.