“Mad Men”, meet “Glee” - “How to Succeed...” Succeeds


How To Succeed Jordan Nichols Kimberly Faith Hickman.jpg

Having seen the Live at Lunch segment recorded for WKNO, I was well prepared, musically, for what was to come in Playhouse's slick production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, and there were few surprises in that area: Jordan Nichols was an eager, ambitious "Finch"; Carla McDonald, a wry (and vocally terrific) "Smitty"; Ken Zimmerman, ever the master scene-stealer.

The actual production, though, was a visual triumph as well -- both in regards to costuming, hairstyles (I never thought I'd say it: The "beehive" was abuzz in all its lacquered glory), advertisements, and set design.

Admittedly, there is a "squirm" factor involved when one allows reality to disturb the viewer's "willing suspension of disbelief": It's too facile to think that the "Finch" character prefigures the kind of ambition and drive that popped the once soaring balloon of the American economy. (The work is, after all, a satire of what made Madison Avenue attractive in the late 50's and early 60's -- anyone out there remember Hope Lange and Joan Crawford in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING?)

With all of that aside, the piece is a slick comment on the times -- women may sip their Metricals and type, but their ultimate goal is to marry an executive. When Andrea Roach's "Rosemary" sings her "philosophy," one is reminded of "Somewhere That's Green" from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS; all that "Rosemary" and "Audrey" need is a man to complete them. In the film version of HOW TO . . . , Robert Morse, the original star, had a gap-toothed, devilish approach, and former radio star Rudy Vallee seemed to be impersonating a businessman's version of FDR. In the Playhouse production, Jordan Nichols is a more likeable presence as "Finch," and since the characters here don't cry out for development (as they would in a CAROUSEL or SOUTH PACIFIC), that seems to compensate. Nick Mason, as the unctuous nephew, is the revelation here -- vocally, physically, he invokes a 20th century version of "Uriah Heep." He not only inhabits the character, but takes a ninety-nine year-lease on the part.

The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent: The aforementioned Miss McDonald, that chameleon actor David Foster (a dashing figure in PIRATES OF PENZANCE, a wincing butler in DROWSY CHAPERONE, etc. -- the only consistency in his performances lie in their excellence of interpretation), Playhouse's First Lady of Theatre Irene Crist (who makes a banquet out of a Metrical-sized part), Dave Landis, and, as the "Lina Lamont" of Secretaries, Sarah Hoch. Even chorus members like Cassie Thompson ("Sally" in Theatre Memphis' CABARET), Marc Gill, and Nicole Renee Hale are obviously deserving of some leading roles.

Note: The choreography is inventive and impressive. Highly recommended.

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