“How To Succeed” at Playhouse is sheer, total, unadulterated, sparkling, ambitious entertainment
It's not enough to write that Playhouse on the Square’s production of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” under the direction of Kimberly Faith Hickman is spectacular. The revival of this fifty year old -year-old out of date musical with a sexist bent will knock you out. The humor, the tongue-in-cheek approach, the comedic characterizations, the energy, the choreography, the voices, the brilliant set design, the large cast, the acting, the expressions, the music, made for a thrilling, fun-packed musical event. I expected good, what I got was “Great!” I could see this production again and again. You should, too. Every one of the 25 cast members in “How to Succeed” exhibits a well-developed character. No one holds back, everyone is giving more than 100% all the time. It’s kudos from curtain up to encore.
Jordan Nichols took over J. Pierrepoint Finch. When the lights come up, Nichols is reading a book, narrated by the unseen Voice himself. (Too modest to permit his name to appear in the program, The Voice is that of POTS Executive Director Jackie Nichols.) Finch will do anything to succeed, and this book tells him exactly what to do. Even with tongue-in-cheek, Jordan Nichols’ Pierrepoint is honestly believable. Who hasn't witnessed someone who will do anything to get on the right side of a Boss? The naive, innocent, wide-eyed secretary, Rosemary, deliciously comes alive through the insight of Andrea Rouch. Her beautiful and commanding voice and bright eyes reflect a young woman falling head over heels in love the first time the she meets Finch. Rosemary hears wedding bells without knowing a thing about this sleezy but charming cad.
Speaking of cads, Nick Mason takes on the awkward, bumbling, lazy nephew of J.B. Biggley (Ken Zimmerman). Bud Frump works in the mailroom, doing as little as he can, looking and scheming for a promotion that never comes. No one has ever or will ever overshadow Mason in this role. He's a marvel. He never stops moving. Rubber muscles keep him in perpetual topsy-turvy animation. That’s not a disability it’s a gift. Gracefulness will never be a description for Bud, and yet Mason captures the gracefulness of a cat. Ken Zimmerman’s Biggley, owner of the World Wide Wiickets organization will do anything to make himself look good; i.e Jumping on ideas and easily influenced, he absolutely dreads talking to his wife. He's the characterization of the pompous scatter-brained executive, and Zimmerman does his usual magnificent portrayal in the role.
Irene Crist – always so versatile in every role she undertakes - adds greatly to the humor. Her comedic side is honest, real, and natural. When she announces during a coffee break there is no coffee, the employees come unglued and present the hilarious Coffee Break song. The employees complain with musical spasmodic antics, rolling on the floor and collapsing in agony in fear that they may not last that long.
When Biggley announces a friend of his family is applying for a secretarial position, no one is prepared for Sarah Hoch’s Hedy La Rue, a cigarette girl with no skill except a high squeaky voice and a penchant for outrageous revealing outfits, on the make for anyone of importance wearing pants. Sarah Hoch is a riot, a delightful, playful joyous riot.
When Biggley announces a new Vice President of Advertising and Benjamin Burton Daniel Ovington marches in, Finch makes sure Biggley knows he is from a rival college. His resignation is expected and Finch replaces him, which is what he schemed for. A plot develops for a high risk advertising campaign based on a kernel of thought planted by the rattle-brained Bud. Blowing up in his face, Finch sees himself falling off the ladder of success and once again washing windows. Just about the time one thinks there can be no more surprises, enter Wally Womper, Chairman of the Board identifying with Finch because he too was once a window washer, himself. It’s interesting to note that POTS Associate Director Dave Landis, who portrays Womper, is an honest to goodness comedic actor.
Renee’ Kemper is the leader of the band and she deftly controls the keyboards and she sets the exciting musical tempo. Jimmy Humphries’ simple and clever minimalist scenic design is sheer genius with the stage surrounded by huge World Wide Wicket advertising panels. The World Wide Wickets Company sits right in the midst of the art deco era. Likewise the Rebeca Y. Powell costume designs, her bright colors are colorful in the dress of the day and wondrously appropriate for every cast member.
Kimberly Faith Hickman not only directed but also choreographed the show, paying close attention to the skills and dance abilities of her cast, giving them graceful, musical, farcical fun. Watch their faces as well as their feet when they dance. They love every moment.
Space and time prevent highlighting the names and talents of every actor in this talented cast, but when you see this production they will show you who they are and where their passions lie. “How To Succeed” at Playhouse on the Square should not be missed. It is sheer, total, unadulterated, sparkling, ambitious entertainment.