Porchlight’s HOW TO SUCCEED Almost Does
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With the success of television’s 1960’s inspired Mad Men, many theatre companies are trying to emulate the same vision by reviving musicals from that decade. No musical falls into the stylistic pantheon of coolness more than Frank Loessor’s 1961 Tony winning How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying which proved a star vehicle for Robert Morse who later recreated his role of J. Pierpont Finch for the 1967 film version. With two successful revivals (1995 with Matthew Broderick and 2011 with Danielle Radcliff), this misogynistic musical is still great fun with the right cast.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s new production that opened Tuesday at Stage 773, though admirable in effort only meets the material halfway. Based on the 1952 novel, How To Succeed tells how an everyman (window washer Finch) can rise to top the corporate ladder by following some basic, yet vital steps all laid out in a self-help book. Director Rob Lindley’s passion for the musical is clear and has an assembled amiable cast headed by the nimble Tyler Ravelson. Mr. Ravelson has great comic instincts and a wonderful tenor belt, but still seems to be struggling to find his own version instead of a shoulder shrugging Morse/Broderick mash-up. (Ravelson’s severe haircut certainly doesn’t add too a youthful guy on the go). This leaves his romantic chemistry with Rosemary, the uber-talented Elizabeth Telford a bit forced.
The supporting cast does its best to buoy the production, with great performances by John Keating as Bud Frump and Fred Zimmerman as the quintessential J. B. Biggley (the finest I’ve seen this role sung and played) and the production numbers choreographed by Brenda Didier are downright sensational (though adding a few more ensemble members wouldn’t hurt). Coffee Break was especially creative while the finale, Brotherhood of Man, thanks to the vocal and tapping prowess of Iris Lieberman, had most of the audience on their feet as well. Of special note, legendary anchorman Bill Curtis lends with sultry, booming baritone voice as the Narrator.
The biggest issue is that Mr. Lindley’s grand vision of the show wasn’t carried through by the technical staff. Bill Morey’s costumes, which should be vibrant and fitted are bland and loose. The men’s suits are especially crude coupled with shoes that look like they came straight out the Goodwill. The set fixtures are 1970’s era, a decade later than what is called for, while the set itself, though colorful, looks like something left over from the old Match Game.
How Two Succeed is a period show all the way through and for it to work all involved need to keep it stuck at the time certain. Instead, it is a big ship that can easily get away from its captain, which is seems to have done here.
Porchlight Music Theatre’s Production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying runs through June 1, 2014 at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. For more information visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org or call 773.327.5252. For calendar information visit www.theatreinchicago.com