Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Roseville's How To Succeeded

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opens with a window washer on a scaffold reading a book by the same name. He follows its instructions (with a lot more cleverness than the author expects) and actually does manage to succeed on wit, charm, doing his homework, a little bit of blackmail and Being Cute. A large part of his success hinges on two extremely attractive women finding him irresistibly cute. David McDaniel, who plays the part, is shaped like a bale of hay, and while he does have a cute face, it's John Candy cute, not the Michael J. Fox/Robert Morse cute which the script screams out for. As a result, much of the character in the script is lost, and some balletic choreography, which McDaniel executes amazingly well, comes off as unfortunately comic.

I've been there. I had the same effect in Menlo Players Guild's Can Can doing ballet steps in a gorilla suit. And being forced to partake in the Luck Be A Lady choreography as the clumsy gangster Big Jule in Guys and Dolls. It ain't pretty. 

And that is the last negative thing I will say about McDaniel, because aside from looks, he played the part perfectly. And so did the rest of the cast. Everyone sang, everyone danced, almost everyone had lines and it all came off beautifully. Kudos to the director, Brent Null, who built a team out of a diverse cast, and had them ready for this second-night performance better than some closing nights I've seen. Choreographer Stephen Hatcher grabbed the 50's theme by the horns and came up with a combination of Broadway chorus line and Greenwich Village beatnik with some ballet thrown in for good measure, and made it work. 

The story is fairly simple. We have J. Pierpont "Ponty" Finch, the window washer, following the instructions in the book to rapidly rise to the top in a huge corporation, World Wide Wickets. Rosemary (Ashley Mortensen) from the secretarial pool falls in love with him instantly, and has the white picket fence all picked out by the second scene in Act I. But Ponty is busy buttering up company president J.B. Biggley (Richard Sierto) as well as his boss (head of the mailroom, played by Bob Eggert) while trying to fend off the competition - the President's nephew, Bud Frump (David Garrison). Garrison is nothing short of amazing as the character you love to hate. Extra points for the geek eyeglasses and finger-in-the-electric-socket hair style.

Things get a little more complicated when the president brings in his bimbo de jour, Hedy LaRue (Keri Newton), to join the secretarial pool. Newton, whose proportions appear to be exactly those of the original Barbie™ doll, puts on a squeaky Brooklyn moll's voice (think Adelaide in Guys and Dolls), adds the obligatory chewing gum, and self-induced lobotomy. She even sings a love song with Biggley in that character voice - astounding.   

LaRue, of course, also thinks Ponty is cute, which sends Rosemary into throes of jealousy. Everything works out in the end, though, and while there are a couple of O'Henry twists in the finale, it all ties up nicely.

As a musical, How To Succeed is not a blockbuster. The one standard which came out of the show, I Believe In You, is watered down into being sung by Ponty contrapuntally against the men's chorus belting out the not very tuneful Gotta Stop That Man, as well as a short reprise by Rosemary. However, the cast does as much with the songs as can be done, and sometimes more - Spierto and Newton turn the throw-away Love From A Heart Of Gold into a 3-hankie love song. And every time Mortensen opens her mouth to sing, I want to run up on stage and propose. I know, "take a number"... 

Scenic Design by Karen Couey was very sparse, but it made scene changes go quickly, which is a blessing in a 90-minute first act. Speaking of which, I'd have split this beast into 3 acts. Sound design by Rick Daniels was pretty good, but some of the face mikes were distracting. Musical Director Jennifer Vaughn did wonders with a small orchestra, and has a fantastic depth of singers to work with. Everyone in that cast is above average. Michael Wootton on trumpet is outstanding.

Costumes by Mary Ann Pujals and Eileen Beaver were spot-on for the period, with one glaring exception. The script calls for the leading lady to show up at a party in a man-eater outfit, something guaranteed to  make the hero fall in love at first sight. The dress which she appears in is a loud cotton print cut perfectly for a 1950 suburban lawn party or picnic. If anything, it would guarantee the hero would run screaming. Well, no, the dress would get her ignored. The mis-matched cute little black-veiled hot pink round hat (set at a jaunty angle) would make him run screaming.

Tech was pretty simple for this show, a mostly bare stage, a couple of small flown-in pieces, and a projection screen which was used to show the NYC skyline behind Biggley's desk. I had two problems with that skyline. First, they chose to use a fancy transition pattern to launch the image, which I found distracting and out of place for the period. But more distracting is the fact that the same window in the same office showed a different view of the city at night than it did during the day. During the day, we see the Met Life building on the far right, and the only other building I recognized in the shot was the CitiBank building. At night the Met Life building is on the left, with the Chrysler Building and the Empire State to the right.

The venue is a comfortable movie house which was converted into a live theater, located in downtown Roseville. If you're in the area, I highly recommend catching a performance. How To Succeed is produced by Magic Circle, Roseville's community theater, and runs weekends through July 29.

Tags: review

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