Wednesday, February 1, 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at the Welk Theatre

"How to..." definitely succeeds:

The Welk Theatre mounts a handsome revival, full of professionalism and pizzazz

By Donnie Matsuda

From the mailroom minions to the top level corporate executives, the Welk Theatre’s current revival of the 1961 musical comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is flawless, faithful, and a whole lot of fun.

Part of the show’s success has to do with writer Abe Burrow’s delightfully clever, tongue-in-cheek commentary about the “science of getting ahead” in the corporate world. Another part is Frank Loesser’s tuneful (if a bit tired) score which contributes greatly to the show’s bright and broadly comedic feel. But the final part, and perhaps the most important, is the first-rate casting and uniformly excellent direction and choreography created here by Ray Limon in the Welk’s spiffy new revival.

(L to R): Natalie Storrs as Rosemary and Allen Everman as Finch. Photo courtesy of Welk San Diego.

As a 1960’s period piece, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying chronicles the meteoric rise of lowly window washer J. Pierrepont Finch as he relies on a little “How to” guidebook and a whole lot of bum luck to climb the corporate ladder, rung by painful rung. As he rises from head of the mailroom to advertising executive at the World Wide Wicket Company, he bumps into (sometimes accidentally, most of the time intentionally) just the right people with just the right connections at just the right time. And every step of the way, his little guidebook provides some cynically crass commentary on what it really takes to get ahead.

As bright eyed and bushy tailed Finch, Allen Everman has just the right combination of ambition, charm, and humility. While Finch does not carry the show (he serves more as a foil to connect the other more interesting characters in the cast), he does need to be a credible character, one who can plot and scheme to get ahead, but also one who can be innocent and naive at the same time. Everman is not only completely convincing in the role, but he is blessed with a lovely tenor voice which is put to good use in his two big ballads, “Rosemary” and “I Believe in You.”

While Everman is outstanding as young Finch, he is aided and abetted by a large cast of colorful characters, all of whom are terrific in their supporting roles. Among them, Scott Dreier is perfectly nebbish and nerdy as Finch’s mousy nemesis Bud Frump, Walter Smith shows both the commanding and affecting sides of J.B. Biggley, President of the World Wide Wicket Company, Rich Little is appropriately authoritative as the Voice of the Book, and the five men who round out the chorus of executives are impressive in their minor roles as well as their song and dance abilities.

Scott Dreier as Bud Frump. Photo courtesy of Welk San Diego.

While the men are the focus of this male-dominated, corporation-centric enterprise, it is the women who steal the show with their bell-clear voices, sharp staging, and spot-on acting chops. Natalie Storrs is simply winning as Rosemary Pilkington, Finch’s love interest and the object of much of his clueless neglect. Her numbers “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “Paris Original” are richly sung and warmly delivered. Other standouts amid the female “steno pool” are Bethany Slomka as a strong voiced Smitty and Lindsay Martin as squeaky-voiced blonde bombshell Hedy LaRue. While all the ladies deliver top notch performances, the true surprise talent of the bunch is Marie Kelly as J.B. Biggley’s secretary, Miss Jones. Kelly shows off some smartly subdued acting chops early on, but when she begins belting out in the show’s penultimate show stopping number “Brotherhood of Man,” she (surrounded by an exuberant cast of fellow executives) really brings the house down.

Bravo to director/choreographer Ray Limon for his brilliant casting and seamless direction. Not only does his speedy and spry staging go off without a hitch, but his exhilarating and inventive choreography is so exciting to watch, you’ll want to jump on stage and join in the festivities. And, aiding him in bringing the boardroom to life is music director Justin Gray, who leads a very tight four piece orchestra through Loesser’s bright and bouncy score.

The cast of "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." Photo courtesy of Welk San Diego.

To top it off, every technical aspect of this production is done to perfection, from Mike Buckley’s handsome office building interior (complete with “working” elevators and a central turntable for quick scene changes) to the sharp, spiffy, period appropriate costumes provided by The Theatre Company in Upland.

When it all comes together so well (as it does in this first rate revival) it makes one ask: Who knew that a day at the office could be this much fun!?

Things to know before you go: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays at the Welk Theatre in Escondido through February 26th, 2012. Running time is 2 hours and 50 minutes with a 15 minute intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 1pm, Thursdays at 1pm and 8pm, Saturdays at 1pm, and Sundays at 6:30pm. Tickets are $29-$59 (some ticket prices include pre-show meals). For more information or to purchase tickets, call (888) 802-7469 or visit

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