How to Win Fans and Change Your Persona

When stage lights dim at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and the spotlight shines on Daniel Radcliffe beaming from ear to ear, he knows that he has cajoled an unsuspecting pawn to move him around the corporate chessboard and into a higher ranking position.  The audience claps and screams with laughter and the scene resumes as if Radcliffe had not broken the fourth wall just a second before.   As I continued to watch Radcliffe on stage, I began to realize that perhaps it was not just J. Pierrepont Finch that wanted to transform himself, maybe the man playing him desired to do so as well.  

Daniel Radcliffe’s face is just as synonymous with tween and teen pop culture as Miley Cyrus.  Like Cyrus’ Hannah Montana, Radcliffe has become the living embodiment of a multi-billion dollar enterprise.  His face is synonymous with the character of Harry Potter, the protagonist in a series of books penned by J.K. Rowling, which were subsequently turned into hit films.  The complication that can come from an actor’s success being intricately tied to a specific role is that those ties can begin to strangle the actor’s career.  The character becomes larger than the actor – fans, directors, casting agents, producers only want to see the actor play in roles similar to the one that catapulted them to success.  A frustrating obstacle for any artist – especially one that has the added burden of trying to transition from a child star to an adult actor, enter the role of Alan Strang and a nude scene in the revival of Equus.  Add to the mix the end of the Harry Potter series and Radcliffe’s performance as the overly cute but connivingly ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch in the latest revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and I would say Radcliffe has concocted a spell for a new career path as an actor.

Before there was The Office or The Devil Wears Prada, there was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a 1952 satirical best-selling book by Shepherd Mead that morphed into a hit Broadway musical in 1961 with the help of a book written by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and choreography by Bob Fosse and Hugh Lambert.  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying centers on the goings on at the World Wide Wicket Company and deals with themes of ruthless ambition, nepotism, sexism and the deportment gap.  Anyone who has ever waded in the shark-infested waters of any corporation can relate to the characters and wild scenarios that happen at World Wide Wicket.  J. Pierrepont Finch, the lead character, is a window washer determined to ascend to the summit of the corporate ladder no matter what the cost. With the assistance of an omnipresent voice and a how-to book, Finch is armed with all the ammunition he needs to scheme, lie, manipulate and BS his way up the corporate ladder.  Rosemary, a secretary and Finch’s eventual love interest, is equally bent to being an urban steno pool legend by marrying a young executive.  Finch immediately becomes her target.  J.B. Biggley is the President of the World Wide Wicket Company.  He procures jobs for his voluptuous, dim witted mistress Hedy LaRue and Bud Frump, his lazy nephew through marriage whom he would love to fire but keeps on for fear of hearing his wife complain. 

In Finch’s meteoric rise to becoming Vice President of Advertising, he manages to swindle personnel manager Mr. Bratt into believing he knows Biggley, which lands him a job in the mailroom.  After a swift promotion to junior executive from Bratt, Finch convinces Biggley that he is also a fellow alum of Old Ivy by singing a duet of the fight song.  This garners him the curvaceous Ms. LaRue as a secretary and an office.  Suspecting that Hedy is Biggley’s mistress, he uses his boss’ weakness for women against him and is once again promoted to the head of Plans and Systems.  During a reception for Benjamin Burton Daniel Ovington, the new Vice President of Advertising, Finch innocently exposes that the new VP graduated from Old Ivy’s arch rival, he is fired and Finch becomes head of Advertising.  Through all the stunts Finch pulls, Rosemary is faithfully by his side until he realizes that he that she is the woman for him.  Also never far behind is Bud Frump, Finch’s and Biggley’s nemesis.  Once Frump uncovers the affair between his uncle and Hedy, he uses blackmail to obtain a promotion.  He also gives Finch the idea that leads to the young window washer’s downfall.  But Finch’s nine lives are not completely consumed, by sweet talking   Wally Womper, the CEO of the World Wide Wicket Company; he saves everyone’s jobs and finally rids himself of Frump.

After its initial Broadway run, a film was made in 1967.  In 1995, a revival was staged at the Richard Rogers Theatre and starred Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullaly.  This revival marks How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’s golden anniversary and it is better than ever!  Daniel Radcliffe is not just trying to succeed, he is winning.  Who would have known that there was a song and dance man secretly hiding underneath all that muggle get up?  Radcliffe gives a valiant effort as J. Pierrepont Finch.  Instead of doing things “the company way” Finch does things his way and lands on the top of the heap, like Finch, Radcliffe does things his way and scores big.  John Larroquette makes his Broadway debut as Biggley.  To my generation Larroquette will always be known as the womanizing attorney Dan Fielding in the comedy series Night Court.  It was great to see Larroquette on stage reintroducing himself to a new generation; it was equally enjoyable to see that he has lost none of his superb comedic timing and wit.  Michael Park was song and dance man long before he was FBI agent turned Oakdale policeman Jack Snyder in As the World Turns, a CBS soap opera.  After the soap’s over 40-year run ended in 2010, Park returned to the stage.  He is a natural as Bert Bratt.  Rose Hemingway is as sweet as her namesake in the role of Rosemary.  Her voice inspires joy and the quirky chemistry between she and Radcliffe share on stage is perfect.  Christopher Hanke is a wicked bowl of laughs as Bud Frump and if not for Daniel Radcliffe, Tammy Blanchard would have stole the show as Hedy LaRue. 

The true star of this revival is Rob Ashford.  He brings the same light-hearted effervescence to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying as he did to last year’s revival of Promises, Promises.  The sets are engaging and like the actors, transition very well.  The choreography is robust and physical, yet playful and really assist in elevating the music and lyrics.  Each musical number was better than the first and brought the best out of the actors.  My favorite number is “I Believe in You.”  As Finch and the other executives prepare for his big meeting, he looks into the mirror and earnestly sings himself a pep talk.  From what I witnessed, there is no more need for convincing – Ashford, Radcliffe, Larroquette and the rest of the cast made me a believer.

Photos:  Ari Mintz