J. Pierpont Finch is once again learning How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying as Candlelight Pavilion treats Southland audiences not only to its savory cuisine but to the 1961 Frank Loesser/Abe Burrow Broadway gem, adding up to one all-around delicious evening (or afternoon) of musical theater.
Dino Nicandros stars as “Ponty,” a lowly window-washer toiling high up the Manhattan skyscraper headquarters of the World Wide Wicket Company with nothing but Shepherd Mead’s 1952 book How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying as his guide to corporate stardom.
Following Mead’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 doors for very first time.
Not only has Ponty almost immediately made the acquaintance of WWW CEO J.B. Biggley (Steve Gunderson), he has caught the eye of perky, pretty, marriage-minded secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Sallie Griffin) and raised the hackles of fellow mail-room worker Bud Frump (Jared Ryan Kaitz), Biggley’s nephew by marriage who’s 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 (Jennifer Wilcove).
Supporting characters include Smitty (Ann Myers), Rosemary’s wise-cracking best friend and fellow secretary, personnel manager Mr. Bratt (Spenser Misetich), and Mr. Twimble (Jim Skousen), a 25-year mailroom vet at World Wide Wickets. (Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert’s book leaves it to our imaginations what exactly a “wicket” is and why so many businesses seem to need scads and scads of them.)
Last to join the company but definitely not least is the va-va-voomy Hedy LaRue (Krista Curry), 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 noteworthy lack of skills, a deficiency she more than makes up for in curves.
Loesser’s H2$ score may well be his all-time most infectious, including the hits “I Believe In You” and “The Brotherhood Of Man” and the lesser-known but equally catchy “The Company Way,” “Been A Long Day,” “Rosemary,” and the title song.
In addition, Loesser’s lyrics have never been cleverer than they are in “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.”) 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.”).
Under John LaLonde’s pizzazzy direction, a cast of Candlelight regulars and newbies deliver one splendiferous performance after another, beginning with handsome up-and-comer Nicandros, who captures all of Ponty’s boyish charm and industrious moxie, and can sing and dance with the best of them.
Griffin’s Rosemary combines loveliness and pluck in equal measure, Myers once again proves herself a master wisecracker as Smitty, and Curry makes Hedy a scrumptiously screechy blonde bombshell.
As Bud Frump, Kaitz steals scenes right and left while channeling a baritone Carol Channing, and Skousen gives him a run for his money in a trio of comical cameos, including Mr. Ovington and Wally Womper.
Equity guest artist Gunderson adds a hilariously harrumphy J.B. Bigley to his mile-long list of credits, with terrific support from Micetich’s Mr. Bratt and Wilcove’s Miss Jones, the latter of whom skats to the skies in “The Brotherhood Of Man.”
There’s not a more talented triple-threat ensemble in town than Fabio Antonio (Mr. Gatch), Marius Beltran (Mr. Toynbee), Rachel Burkert (Miss Krumholtz), Emily Gordon (Nancy), Marie Gutierrez (Lily), Veronica Gutierrez (Meredith), April Lovejoy (Miss Grabowski, Scrub Woman), Derek Leo Miller (Mr. Jenkins, TV announcer), Michael Skrzek (Mr. Peterson), Chad Takeda (Mr. Takaberry), and Stephanie Urko (Kathy, Scrub Woman), especially when executing DJ Gray’s sensational choreography, in particular a remarkably inventive “A Secretary Is Not A Toy” that finds ever ingenious ways of using 1960s corded telephones.
The entire cast sings quite fabulously under Douglas Austin’s expert musical direction (performing to prerecorded tracks), and speaking of fabulous, H2$ is one of Candlelight’s most all-around fabulous-looking productions ever, from Chuck Ketter’s snazzy scenic design to Merrill Grady’s colorful ‘60s costumes* and Mary Warde and Michon Gruber-Gonzales’s bouffant wigs to Jonathan Daroca’s vibrant lighting design**, an expert vocals/instrumentals mix making H2$ sound as good as it looks.
Daniel Bride is stage manager. Orlando Montes is technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.
Candelight’s 2016 season opener Guys And Dolls may be Frank Loesser’s most celebrated Broadway classic, but I’ll take How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying any day. I haven’t had so much fun at the Pavilion in years.
*provided by Costume World Theatrical, Deerfield Beach, Fl
**provided by StreetLite LLC
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
April 24, 2106
Photos: Demetrios Katsantonis, John LaLonde