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Theater Review (NYC): ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’

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Lo and behold, the impish star of the Harry Potter franchise is a solid song-and-dance man.

Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette headline this 50th anniversary production of Frank Loesser’s under-appreciated musical based on the old self-help satire by Shepherd Mead. While the erstwhile boy wizard can’t magically generate himself a voice for the ages, he’s got decent singing chops and a winning, winkingly humorous stage personality—and he can dance up a storm with the rest of the Broadway bunch.

 

 

Rob Ashford directs and choreographs this production with very nearly the same panache he brought to the recent revival of the similar-themed Burt Bacharach musical Promises, Promises. That show, also about a young man starting out in a large company, had the benefit of Sean Hayes in the lead role; Mr. Radcliffe, good as he is, can’t match Mr. Hayes’ elastic comic brilliance. Still he makes a fine J. Pierrepont Finch, the scheming corporate climber who connives his way to the top at World Wide Wickets by sidestepping the groupthink that keeps most employees in their place (“Company Way”).

Ashford proves again his ability to freshen up dated material without changing the substance. (Well, not much; a dig at Tom Cruise is one of a series of blink-and-you-missed-it amusing moments.) A couple of song titles (“Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” “A Secretary Is Not a Toy”) suffice to show how dated this material is. But the great Frank Loesser’s songs still sound winning and even fresh, from the cleverly constructed “Coffee Break” and “Been a Long Day” to the romantic numbers that carry the halting love story between Finch and the secretary Rosemary Pilkington, a rather clipped role fleshed out nicely by Rose Hemingway in her Broadway debut.

 

 

John Larroquette, looking bearish next to the diminutive Mr. Radcliffe, pleasantly surprised me; the sardonic humor that gives his television characters their punch turns out to be more than encompassing enough to translate well to the stage. He’s thoroughly charming as the knitting, philandering, easily manipulated head of the company, and the two stars bring down the house in the showstopper, “Grand Old Ivy.”

Also shining in supporting roles are, among others, Ellen Harvey, Nick Mayo, a hyper-jovial Rob Bartlett, and a piston-like Mary Faber as Rosemary’s brash, bespectacled friend Smitty.

Photos by Ari Mintz.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.