On a recent trip to New York City I attended a performance of the Broadway Revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” starring Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette. Leaving the theater, spirit soaring, I noticed my jaw hurt because I had been smiling for 3 hours straight. I was completely charmed by this lighthearted story of business chicanery. It straddles the line between showing affection for the period and jabbing at the cultural absurdities. The songs are upbeat and catchy. I’m still humming many tunes weeks later. Most of all, the dancing was brilliant. The Hirschfeld Theater is of modest size, but the “How To Succeed” company maximizes the space with grand dance numbers that fill the view.
Radcliffe stars as Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious window washer with a business manual that holds the key to his success. Narrated by Anderson Cooper, Finch refers to his trusty text to get a job at World Wide Wickets and rises quickly through the ranks. His fast tracked success earns the wrath of Bud Frump (Christopher Hanke), the manipulative nephew of company owner J. B. Biggley (John Larroquette). Using his book, Finch avoids the pitfalls of office life, leap frogging over his dim colleagues. Using his intuition and people-sense, Finch gets in good with Mr. Biggley and becomes Vice-President of Advertising. His love life blossoms with Rosemary, (Rose Hemingway) who marked him for marriage on his first day. Just as things take off for Finch, he faces his first hurdle and bankrupts the company. Finch’s lucky streak meets his ingenuity and he dodges unemployment to take over the entire company.
Having watched Radcliffe grow up as Harry Potter, it’s fun and surprising to see him in this role. Radcliffe’s performance pulses with an overwhelming energy. He bounds, flips, and jumps across the stage. And boy, he can really dance. During numbers like “Grand Old Ivy” and “Brotherhood of Man” he’s right there with the company swinging in time with their elaborate moves and singing along. Especially in “Brotherhood of Man” when he strides to the front of the stage like a master showman, switching his hips like nothing I ever seen before. When I’m watching “Murder She Wrote” re-runs with the elders in the nursing home, that curious smile on my face will be me recalling the magic of Daniel Radcliffe’s hips.
Not only physically, Radcliffe nails the comedic tone of the piece. Throughout his face is beaming with a magnetic smile that you rarely saw on Harry Potter’s visage. I was also impressed by his singing. In pieces like “Rosemary,” “Grand Old Ivy” and “Brotherhood of Man” Radcliffe’s voice keeps pace with the other Broadway players. In his biggest solo “I Believe in You,” he impressively belts out the song, perched above the orchestra while locking his eyes with the audience. It’s a surprisingly intense moment in the production. Radcliffe proves to be an agile performer switching deftly from the comedic banter to more dramatic moments and back to the grand song and dance productions. I say more Broadway is in order from Radcliffe.
The other players are wonderful as well. I got to revisit my “Night Court” crush on John Larroquette who plays the gullible tycoon Mr. Biggley. He roars out his orders and songs, but shows his sensitive side in the saccharin ballad “Heart of Gold.” Christopher Hanke as Bud Frump is the guy you love to hate. Hanke gives his lines that extra punch followed by an exasperated sign or overextended eye roll. Hanke and Mary Faber as Smitty lead one of my favorite numbers “Coffee Break,” a ode to caffeine addiction. Hanke and Faber engage in part tug of war and tango as they jockey for the last cup of coffee. Hanke played the gnawing Utah State Senate aide in the last season of “Big Love” and I hope to see him more on stage and screen. Rose Hemingway as Rosemary has a powerful voice and sassy sparkle. Her zealous pursuit of Finch is both gnawing and sweet. I ultimately admired her character for her loyalty to Finch when all the phonies abandoned him.
"How to Succeed" playfully skewers a time when America stopped making things and become fixated on selling and packaging the same old ideas. Finch navigates these shallow waters so well because he knows how to package himself right for the right audience. His ability to tune into other people’s desires and expose their flaws makes him a fun hero to root for. From my seat in the 5th row center, I thoroughly enjoyed "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" and often have the Grammy nominated cast album on my iPod. If you have the ability and opportunity, I urge you to catch the show while Radcliffe plays the lead.
They’re Re-Making One of Your Favorite Films
They’re Making One of Your Favorite Films into a Broadway Musical
It’s funny how hearing about a remake or sequel to a perfectly wonderful film (see “American Psycho” or “Midnight Run”) causes me to explode with blind rage, but hearing a film will be turned into a musical fills me with pure joy (see “Newsies” “Sister Act” “Ghost”). Dear Hollywood, the only way to remake a film is on the STAGE.
Leave Patrick Bateman alone!