Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How To Succeed in Boca

“How to Succeed” a Big Success

By Skip Sheffield

In the wake of the sad news of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy and sudden closing of Florida Stage, it is gratifying to report live theater is alive and well in Boca Raton. A terrific production of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” continues through Sunday, June 26 at Caldwell Theatre Company, 7901 N. Federal Highway.
The show is produced by Vicki & Peter Halmos Family Foundation, parent corporation of Entre’Acte Theatrix, which is in turn an offshoot of Palm Beach Principal Players: a “Conservatory for the Serious Young Actors.”
There are a lot of serious actors in this production, and yes they are younger than what you typically see in professional productions. Make no mistake though, these kids are pros, and the production values are first-rate, from costumes to sets, props, lighting and sound.
“How To Succeed” is a chestnut from 1961 that made a Broadway star of Robert Morse as a conniving corporate climber, J. Pierpont Finch.
Here Finch is played by Shane Blanford, who studied at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The title of the show comes from a manual that Finch, a window-washer who would be a CEO, is reading chapter by chapter. The character of Finch breaks the “fourth wall” regularly by looking smug and smiling directly at the audience (with pinpoint spotlight to make sure we’ll notice) every time he advances up the corporate ladder of the “World Wide Wicket Company.”
Finch’s rapid rise from lowly mail room clerk comes at the expense of anyone who gets in his way, but the biggest casualty is Bud Frump (Greg Halmos), the newly-hired head of the mail room. Bud isn’t exactly a ball of fire. The fact of the matter is the only reason he has a job at WWW is because he is the boss’s nephew.
That boss is J.B. Biggley (John Costanzo), a pompous, insincere and easily flattered jerk; in other words, a typical boss.
The first person to notice Finch is Rosemary Pilkington (Leah Sessa), a corporate secretary who longs for marriage as a traditional wife and helpmate, as expressed in the self-deprecating “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm.” Rosemary’s best buddy Smitty (Lisa Kerstin) has similar 1950s domestic aspirations. Yes, this is a dated show, and some of the references will be missed by the younger audience, but the basic satire on corporate structure is still solid and applicable.
Frank Loesser’s catchy songs are beautifully sung by the ensemble cast and fervently played by a four-piece onstage combo. The score isn’t in the category of all-time classics, but the two best-known tunes, “I Believe in You” and “Brotherhood of Man” are like old friends come by to visit.
The wardrobe, particularly the dresses on the women, is a colorful rainbow riot, and Kimberly Dawn Smith’s choreography, which is a big part of the production, is on target and graceful. The original choreography by the way was by Bob Fosse, who refused credit because he didn’t want to slight the published choreographer.
“How To Succeed” was adapted from a satirical book by Shepherd Mead, published in 1952. The revamped book musical by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, was good enough for a Pulitzer Prize in 1962. I don’t know if producer Vicki Halmos is clairvoyant or simply in-the-know, but a new Broadway revival starring Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe opened March 27, 2011 and is a big hit commercially and critically.
Here’s hoping for everyone in the South Florida Theater community that Entre’Acte Theatrix has a big hit on its hands, for it certainly is well-deserved.
Tickets are $25 and $30 ($10 student rush) and may be reserved by calling 561-241-7432 or 877-245-7432.

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