"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, March 31, 2011
When the last revival of Guys and Dolls was announced a couple of years ago, my reaction was, "Why?" I didn't see the revival, but based on its limited run, that seems to have been a general consensus.
Then, the announcement came last year that How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was headed back to Broadway with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead. Again, I asked, "Why?"
Now, I get that commercial theatre is about making money. It's a high-risk venture, and from time to time art and commerce combine to create something magical and profitable. Every producer is looking for that secret formula to achieve that same goal.
I get that revivals are easier to market because earlier production(s) have taken care of creating awareness and setting a basic interest level, more often than not. That takes one variable out of the formula, again more often than not. And, apparently, just like the last Guys and Dolls, removing that variable is not the silver bullet to perfect the formula. (How's that for mixing metaphors?)
It's a similar situation with Rob Ashford's revival of H2S. There's a strong element of star power with Mr. Radcliffe and John Larroquette to combine with the generally favorable awareness of the show, but addressing that variable isn't enough to perfect the formula either.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad show by any means. It's just unremarkable. Musically, it's serviceable, but David Chase's music direction and arrangements add little to Frank Loesser's score.
Mr. Radcliffe's very young J. Pierrepont Finch is certainly likeable. He's not a particularly strong singer, but looking at his predecessors Robert Morse and Matthew Broderick, the role doesn't call for that. He gets the Faith Prince choreography treatment for most of the show (that's where the chorus dances around him), but does jump into it in "Grand Old Ivy" and "Brotherhood of Man." At his young age, he's got the energy to compensate for training. Plus, Mr. Ashford is truly skilled at choreographing men to dance like men. The combination works well for an inexperienced dancer like Mr. Radcliffe.
Mr. Larroquette (who still seems to be working on his lines in a scene or two) blusters and struts as J. B. Biggley. Tammy Blanchard's Hedy LaRue pulls a lot from Jennifer Coolidge, and for the most part, it works.
Rose Hemingway, like Mr. Radcliffe, is very young for the focused Rosemary Pilkington and still a bit of a raw talent in her Broadway debut. I look forward to seeing her again as she hones her skills. Christopher Hanke's Bud Frump borrows heavily from Molly Shannon's Mary Catherine Gallagher (superstar!!). The effect works very nicely, making a more adorable Bud Frump than one might expect.
Mr. Ashford's direction and choreography are unevenly applied. The direction is minimal, where most of his energy seems to have gone into the choreography. The dance is impressive, but this is not a show one can pull off on dance alone. There are still plenty of laughs and some nice moments.
Derek McLane's massive sets evoke the period nicely, but occasionally overpower the diminutive stars. Howell Binkley's pastel lighting complements the sets and the 1960s costumes by Catherine Zuber.
How to Succeed... is set for an open-ended run, but I'll be surprised if it lasts past Mr. Radcliffe's contract period.