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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Hirschfeld


  Christopher J. Hanke, Michael Park and company/ Ari Mintz

More style than substance, this flashy, fast-moving revival of the 1961 classic about climbing the corporate ladder may well succeed – and it does have quite a bit going for it – but it’s clearly trying. In fact, at times it’s a little too trying.

That’s not the fault of Daniel Radcliffe (perhaps better known as Harry Potter), who plays J. Pierpont Finch, the determined young man with the eponymously named book steering him up from the mailroom of the World-Wide Wicket Company into the stratospheric heights of corporate vice presidency. Making his Broadway musical debut (fans will remember him from Equus), Radcliffe capably embodies the lucky, if slightly loathsome, ladder-climber as an earnest, eager employee single-mindedly bent on success. Though his singing’s not strong, the role’s not vocally demanding, and Radcliffe acquits himself surprisingly well when called upon to dance, though, fans be warned, it’s a long wait.

Nor is the problem due to any cast failings. John Larroquette, making his Broadway debut, seems like an old pro as Ponty’s amiably corrupt boss and mentor, J.B. Biggley. Ellen Harvey and Tammy Blanchard provide strong female support as Mr. Biggley’s formidable secretary and his hot floozy, respectively. Mary Faber has some fetching moments in the relatively minor role of Smitty, one of the firm’s hard-working secretaries, while, weirdly, Anderson Cooper contributes the musical’s narration.

Nor is it the sharp choreography (courtesy of director Rob Ashford), the stunning lozenge-laden set of scenic designer Derek McLane, or even the period orchestrations of Frank Loesser’s bouncy score (though it must be admitted that the music itself, despite its famous composer, is a surprisingly forgettable side).

The real flaw in this spectacularly staged production seems to be that nobody’s actually thought the plot through, despite the script’s own critique of corporate culture. As Ponty becomes a fixture at WWW, he also becomes the object of affection for a young secretary eager to become a neglected housewife in New Rochelle – Rosemary Pilkington (Rose Hemingway); a rival to the boss’s wife’s nephew, the scheming Bud Frump (Christopher J. Hanke); and a worshipful acolyte of Mr. Biggley, until the next bigwig comes along. Yet despite all these relationships, neither Ponty nor his acquaintances ever seem to be more than cookie-cutter caricatures – as their very names suggest – despite the talents of this star-studded cast.

Rather than a musical, this How to Succeed feels more like a morality play in which there is, ultimately, no real moral – or even interpretation – underlying all the madness. Surely Success should mean something more.


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