Frank Loesser's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is one of those shows that's just plain fun. It's hard to make it not fun. But beyond the fun, in order to make it really shine it needs a consistent style and pace and that's where the current production at Second Story Rep could have tried harder.
It's a goofy little story about an eager go-getter in the 60's, J. Pierrepont Finch (Casey Raiha) who rises through the ranks of the World Wide Wicket Company with the help of his handy guide; a book entitled "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying". With this book he maneuvers the shark infested waters of determining who to trust, who to lunch with, which jobs to take and how to get promoted. And with this book he manages to outwit his nepotistic nemesis Bud Frump (John Huddlestun), cozy up to the boss J.B. Biggley (William Hamer) and even how to avoid entanglements with the boss's girlfriend Hedy LaRue (Leah Wickstrom). But what it doesn't prepare him for is meeting the girl of his dreams Rosemary (Carly Hebert) and how she falls into his plans for success.
Director Chris Nardine manages some sparks of that 60's style I mentioned. But without keeping the style consistent and the characterizations almost over the top, the show loses some of its charm and becomes just a musical version of "Mad Men". And the problem with that is "Mad Men" isn't that funny and this show needs to be. The show on the hole tended to be more pretty and less funny; more Rodgers and Hammerstein and less Loesser.
There are some notable exceptions and luckily Raiha is one of them. He manages that Little Machiavellian twinkle in his eye and he's got the charm and voice for the role. But without everyone being in that same world, at times he came across as a bit of an opportunistic jerk instead of the guy you are rooting for. Huddleston and Hebert also come across with that style at times but could have brought them across more to really sell the characters. Huddleston's wonderful brat of a nemesis could be brattier and Hebert's strong woman behind the man could have been stronger. There were, however, three people in the cast who completely nailed the style and intent of the show and could be used as a kind of template for the others. Eric Hartley in his dual role as Mr. Twimble, the mousey head of the mailroom, and Mr. Womper, the imposing Chairman of the Board not only could not have been more different and defined but also never wavered from the style needed for the piece. Wickstrom had her manipulative sex pot routine down as the mistress looking for something better. And Erika Zabelle as the perennial best friend Smitty seemed to bring her scenes to life with her killer voice and incredible facial expressions.
There were definitely some moments that worked. The "I Believe In You/Gotta Stop That Man" number in the bathroom nailed the tone and comedy of the moments wonderfully. But the show could have used those elements in other areas as well to really make it pop. Without those moments the show, while still a fun one, just doesn't have that "zing" to send it over the top. And over the top is where it belongs.
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" performs at Second Story Rep through March 3rd. For tickets or information contact the Second Story box office at 425-881-6777 or visit them online at www.secondstoryrep.org.
Photo credit: Rob Falk