No one know how to succeed at musicals-in-the-round better than Glendale Centre Theatre, proof positive of which can be savored in their pitch-perfect revival of the 1961 Frank Loesser/Abe Burrow Broadway classic How To Succeed At Business Without Really Trying.
Kent Cain stars as J. Pierpont Finch, aka “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 (Richard Malmos), he has caught the eye of perky, pretty, marriage-minded secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Kelly Marie Hennessey) and raised the hackles of fellow mail-room worker Bud Frump (Alex Allen), 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 (Cynthia Caldwell).
Supporting characters include Smitty (Lia Peros), Rosemary’s wise-cracking best friend and fellow secretary, personnel manager Mr. Bratt (Randle Rankin), and Mr. Twimble (Richard Van Slyke), 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 (Danielle Lebens), Biggly’s sexy red-headed 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.
Washroom 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.”).
Directors Danny Michaels and Orlando Alexander once again prove himself masters of theater in the round, ensuring that all four sides of the Glendale Centre Theatre stage get treated with equal imagination and flair … and some of the most sparkling performances I’ve seen in a GCT musical, high praise indeed.
Cain’s Donald O’Connor-meets-Martin Short Ponty sparkles throughout, anchoring the production with star quality and pizzazz. A scene-stealing Allen proves one of the most fabulous Bud Frumps ever, an office diva who knows without a doubt that it’s all about Bud … and don’t you forget it! A marvelous Malmos matches his two male costars every step of the way in his mellifluously-voiced turn as Mr. Bigley.
Hennessey’s vivacious Rosemary could give Debbie or Doris or Sandra a run for their girl-next-door money, Peros is a delightfully zesty sidekick in office secretaryhood, Lebens plays Hedy like a harder-edged Miss Adelaide to delicious effect, and Caldwell is a delight as Miss Jones.
Musical theater vet Van Slyke is a terrific Mr. Twimble, who teaches Ponty how to do things “The Company Way.” Additional business executive gems are provided by Bobby Burkich (Ovington), dance captain Kevin Holmquist (Jenkins), Kyle Kelley (Wonper), Rankin, and John David Wallace (Gatch), and Christopher Curry has clearly done his ‘60s TV announcer homework. (That the male ensemble is age-appropriate for their roles is an added GCT plus.)
Song-and-dance ensemble members Burkich, Curry, Christa Hamilton (Miss Krumholtz), Devin Holliman (Scrubwoman), Holmquist, Katie Moya, Paul Reid, and Libby Snyder (Scrubwoman) are as triple-threat-tastic as triple-threats come, and choreographer Alexander gives them plenty of uber-imaginative dance steps with which to dazzle. (Special snaps for the “box-ograpy” of “The Company Way,” the “sink-ography” of “I Believe In You,” and the “typewriter-ography” of “A Secretary Is Not A Toy.”)
Vocals are all-around terrific thanks to musical director Steven Applegate. Sound designer Alex Mackyol provides an expert mix of amped voices and prerecorded instrumentals.
Costume designer Angela Manke once again impresses with one colorful ‘60s confection after another, including some stunning red-and-black “Paris originals.” Jeremy Williams scores high marks for his eye-popping lighting design of the production’s ingenious in-the-round scenic design and Amanda Bailey’s multitude of period props.
How To Succeed At Business Without Really Trying is produced by Tim Dietlein. Tom Killam is stage manager.
I’ve said it before (in my opening paragraph, no less) but it bears repeating. No one does musicals in-the-round better than Glendale Centre Theatre. Check out their sensational How To Succeed At Business Without Really Trying and you’ll see what I mean.
Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale.
May 13, 2106
Photos: Taylor Wesselman and Angela Manke