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

Promise Fulfilled

As I stood outside the Broadway Theatre, my original thought was maybe the name for this production should’ve been changed to lines, lines.  The appeal of this play was obvious from the procession of people with tickets in hand anticipating the opening of the doors. While I slowly made my way inside the venue, I had another thought.  I realized that every time the curtains rise on a stage a promise is made.  So what do you get when you combine a concept based on a Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond screenplay, a book by Neil Simon, music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David? You get a formula for success, success.  And that is exactly what the revival of Promises, Promises is.

Sean Hayes, Kristen Chenoweth and cast had huge shoes to fill.  The original 1968 production garnered a Grammy award for Best Cast Recording and two Tony awards.  The simple, soft, yet potent elegance of Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s music is deeply woven in the fabric of pop culture.  Songs like “I Say a Little Prayer”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Promises, Promises”, and “A House Is Not a Home” have been indelibly ingrained on the psyche of any music lover thanks impart to iconic singers like Dionne Warwick, Luther Vandross and Aretha Franklin.  The musical is based on the hilarious, Oscar winning comedy, The Apartment, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley McClain.   Although I was not alive when the original musical appeared on Broadway, the music and movie it was based on is very familiar to me.  Needless to say, I had high expectations and I was not disappointed. 

From the opening overture to the reprise of “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, Promises, Promises delivered absolute amusement.  What a joy it was to witness Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s music come alive in a way I had never experienced before.  Sean Hayes was born to play the charming, ambitious to a fault Chuck Baxter, a young bachelor that works at Consolidated Life.  Will & Grace showed he had the comedic chops, but his overall talent shines in this musical comedy.  He is exceptional in his Broadway debut, so much so that his portrayal of Chuck has garnered a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.   His constant breaking of the fourth wall in order to narrate the story was a scream. 

Kristen Chenoweth is simply adorable as the sadder but wiser Fran Kubelik, the young waitress that has an affair with a married executive, played by Tony Goldwyn, and is the girl of Chuck’s dreams.  Her renditions of “Whoever You Are”, “A House Is Not a Home”, “I Say a Little Prayer” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Againare heavenlyShe and Sean are a delight to watch and have great chemistry. 

 

 

 

The slinky, Fossesque choreography of Rob Ashford was right on queue.  The hip-swiveling, energetic moves harkens back to a time when the mash potato, frug and monkey ruled. Rob Ashford received a Tony nomination for Best Choreography and it is well deserved.  Combined with the orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick, 2010 Tony nominee for Best Orchestrations, Promises, Promises provides its audience with a knock out punch.  

For me the breakout star of this musical comedy is Katie Finnerman.  She is a sensation as the brassy, sex-crazed Marge MacDougall.  She delivers some of the most side-splitting lines of the show and is one of the reasons why “A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing” has become my favorite number.   Tony Goldwyn and Dick Latessa also give stand out performances as J.D. Sheldrake, the womanizing executive, and Dr. Dreyfuss, Chuck’s cynical neighbor.

Set in Manhattan during the early 60s, Promises, Promises transports the audience back to a simpler time just before the nation lost its innocence from the eruption of Vietnam War protests, assassinations and riots.  The show is filled with unethical and immoral subject matter, yet in the wake of all the ills that plague us today, infidelity, nepotism, attempted suicide and turkey lurking hardly seems like issues that would raise any eyebrows.  Besides, I so entertained by the performances of the cast that the depravity of the show themes did not register.  Sexy…witty…gut-busting humor…memorable music Promises, Promises has it all.  It is a tremendous triumph.

After seeing Promises, Promises I walked the streets of the new Times Square floating on a cloud of Bacharach.  Once you see it, you will fall in love and stay in love with the revival of this groovy musical.  I promise.

FAMERS to order discount tickets for Promises, Promises, click  http://www.promisespromisesbroadway.com/PPAMC56.php.

Photos courtesy of Promises, Promises.com and Broadway.com