That go-getting whiz kid J. Pierpont Finch is once again zipping his way up the corporate ladder as Performance Riverside gives the Broadway classic How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying a crackerjack revival well-worth the drive east.

375768_585851341445476_379842662_n Any Broadway buff will tell you that How To Succeed (or H2$ as it’s come to be known) began its musical comedy life over half a century ago when a pair of legends, Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows, decided to adapt Shepherd Mead’s 1952 book of the same name for the Great White Way.

Based on Mead’s own experience in the corporate world, but told with considerably more tongue-in-cheek, Burrows’ book (co-written with Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert) introduces us to “Ponty” Finch (Kevin Rose), a lowly window-washer toiling high up the Manhattan skyscraper headquarters of the World Wide Wicket Company with nothing but Mead’s book as his guide to corporate stardom.

Following the author’s advice to the letter—with a bit of truth-stretching thrown in for good measure—Ponty soon finds himself working in the WWW mail room, “soon” being about five minutes after going through the building’s revolving doors for very first time.

Not only has Ponty almost immediately made the acquaintance of WWW CEO J.B. Biggley (John Lynd), he has caught the eye of perky, pretty, marriage-minded secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Casey Canino) and raised the hackles of fellow mail-room worker Bud Frump (David Miller), Biggley’s nephew by marriage and not at all averse to using nepotism to beat Ponty up the ladder to the top.

May the cleverer, craftier man win!

A satirical look at the contemporary business world when it debuted on Broadway in 1961, H2$ has since then become a picture-perfect period-piece portrait of a male-dominated universe in which the highest rank a “girl” could aspire was to secretary to the head honcho, the job held at WWW by the conspicuously single Miss Jones (Rita Merchant), whose top-of-the-female-ladder position got trumped any time a secretary was lucky enough to marry her boss. As for life out in the suburbs, Rosemary makes it abundantly clear in song that she’ll be “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” no matter how late “he comes wearily home from down town,” even if that means “bask[ing] in the glow of his perfectly understandable neglect.”

Supporting characters include personnel manager Mr. Bratt (Aaron Norris), 25-year mailroom vet Mr. Wimble (Jamie Snyder), and Smitty (Amanda Knight), Rosemary’s wise-cracking best friend and fellow secretary at World Wide Wickets. (Burrows’ book leaves it to our imaginations what exactly a “wicket” is and why so many businesses seem to need scads and scads of them.)

947387_10200566825146921_1389710461_n (1) Last to join the company but definitely not least is the va-va-voomy Hedy LaRue (Nicole Manly), Biggly’s dizzy blonde mistress grown tired of days spent alone in their high-rise love nest and eager to join the secretarial pool despite a conspicuous lack of skills, a deficiency she more than makes up for in curves.

Though some Broadway buffs might beg to differ, this reviewer considers Loesser’s H2$ score the finest of his all-too-brief career, topping both Guys And Dolls and The Most Happy Fella with one catchy song after another, beginning with the hits “I Believe In You” and “The Brotherhood Of Man” and continuing with the lesser-known but equally infectious “The Company Way,” “Been A Long Day,” “Rosemary,” and the title song. Loesser’s clever lyrics tp\o “Coffee Break” (“If I can’t make three daily trips, where shining shrine benignly drips, and taste cardboard between my lips, something within me dies, lies down and something within me dies.”) and “A Secretary Is Not A Toy” (“A secretary is not a thing wound by key, pulled by string. Her pad is to write in and not spend the night in, if that’s what you plan to enjoy. No!”) are every bit as delightful in 2013 as they were when written.

No, indeed, musicals don’t come any more entertaining than the 52-year-old H2$, and under Matt Neves’ inspired direction, the Broadway classic shines as brightly as ever.

Key to the success of any H2$ is its casting, and Neves could not have found more sparkling leads than Rose, Canino, and Lynd, or more talented supporting players than Miller, Manly, and Knight to bring H2$ to crowd-pleasing life.

936960_584211714942772_938206510_n The winner of two Best Lead Actor Scenies while still a CSUF undergrad, redheaded Rose could easily score a third with his utterly winning work as J. Pierpont Finch. Combining fresh-faced good looks with a devilish twinkle, Rose holds the audience in the palm of his hands from his first entrance, suspended above the stage on a window washer’s scaffold. Add to that terrific acting chops, stellar vocals, and some fleet-footed dance work in “Brotherhood Of Men” and you’ve got a performer who’s going places.

Canino gives Rosemary a just-right combination of prettiness, femininity, and spunk sure to win any young exec’s heart, and having played Rose’s love interest in CSUF’s The Wedding Singer, she and her costar have the kind of onstage chemistry that can’t be faked.

Lynd’s J.B. Bigley is another colorful performance from the Scenie-winning Mayor Shin of Candelight’s The Music Man, the next best thing to having the one-and-only Paul Ford alive and well and kicking things up on the Performance Riverside stage. Miller’s scrumdiddlyumptious Bud Frump steals every scene he’s in, a case where outrageous flamboyance is what the writers ordered and precisely what the talented young triple-threat delivers. And speaking of scrumdiddlyumptious, they don’t come any more dumb blonde-tastic than Manly, whose Kitty in The Drowsy Chaperone could easily have given Hedy LaRue lessons in bleach-blonde sex appeal if not IQ points. Knight completes the cast of principal players as a fabulously smart-and-sassy Smitty—with power pipes to match.

Merchant doesn’t have her lines down quite sharply enough, but boy can this lady sing, her jazzy solo in “The Brotherhood Of Man” a justified cheer-getter. Snyder shines twice in a pair of cameos, first as Twimble (with a show-stopping “The Company Way”) and later as Chairman of the Board Wally Womper. Norris is excellent too as personnel manager Bratt. David St. Pierre appears on video as TV Announcer, with cleverly-written narration (supposedly from Mead’s book) read by Dick Nourse.

Choreographer Mic Thompson deserves high marks indeed for his energetic, imaginative dance steps, executed with abundant pizzazz by a terrifically talented ensemble made up mostly of current musical theater BFA students or recent college grads.

Ethan Avants (Peterson, Policeman), dance captain Marius Beltran (Tackberry), Ishmon Brown (Toynbee), Matthew Carrillo (Matthews), Marcus S. Daniel (Jenkins), Max Herzfeld (Davis), Jack Robert Riordan (Gatch) look more like college students dressed as businessmen than the real thing, but no matter, they are terrific song-and-dance men each and every one. Dominique Araiza, Bethany Baderdeen (Krumholtz), Rachel Burkert (Scrubwoman), Katie Davis, Jessie Parmelee, Katelyn Spurgin, Momoko Sugai (Scrubwoman), and Ellie Wyman have less to do in the dance department since the secretaries’ big tap number “Cinderella, Darling” has ended up on the cutting room floor, but they are a talented (and gorgeous) bunch as well.

395209_584211164942827_507036771_n Musical director Scott Smith elicits fine vocals from his entire cast, in addition to conducting and playing keyboards in a sensational “pit” orchestra. (Having eleven musicians situated between audience and stage means that even close-up seats are relatively far-back, but it also means hearing the instruments themselves and not just their amplified sounds coming from below stage.)

Scenic designer Jason Graham has created a multi-colored, original, multi-level set that situates Biggley’s office way up at the top of the WWW skyscraper with underlings toiling on lower floors. Matthew Taylor’s lighting design and Dorie Couture’s sound design are the same quality that you’d see and hear in a major Equity production. Machir Lakofka has designed one snazzy ‘60s costume after another, with special mention due the office party’s multitude of Paris originals, each as “sleek and chic and magnifique” as the next, for a reason you will discover.

Amy Shine is assistant director, Raymond Couture production coordinator, and Diane David stage manager.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying marks the end of Performance Riverside as its theatergoing regulars have come to know it, Riverside City College having determined that they can do without a producing artistic director, just one of several changes likely to signal a less professional Performance Riverside than fans and subscribers have known. All the more reason not to miss artistic director Neves’ farewell production, an H2$ I’m exceedingly happy to have made the drive out to Riverside to see.

Performance Riverside, 4800 Magnolia Ave., Riverside.

–Steven Stanley
June 8, 2013
Photos: Crystal Klear Photography


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