By John Lyle Belden
We all know of a person who got into a prime position by dumb luck, fell upwards, however you want to call it. But wouldn’t it be wild if there were a simple instruction manual for the ambitious but unqualified?
“How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at Footlite Musicals will show the way!
Based on a 1952 book of the same name by Shepherd Meade – who promoted it as satire, despite the fact he actually rose from mailroom to vice-president in his company – the musical was a hit in 1961, written by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, with songs by Frank Loesser. More familiar with folks today are the hit revivals which appropriately featured the actors behind Ferris Beuller and Harry Potter in the role of the lead corporate climber.
J. Peirpont Finch (Brett Edwards) is literally on the outside looking in, as a window washer for downtown office buildings. But he has The Book (it was originally published with a yellow cover, so while similar, is not a “Dummies” book). He apparently has the fast-talking mind of a con man, but is somewhat ethical as he seeks to advance his career without committing any crimes or crushing anyone who isn’t acting a fool.
Finch finds himself at World Wide Wickets (even back then, you needed the WWW to succeed) where he meets all manner of characters: A company president, J.B. Biggley (Graham Brinklow), with an easily exploitable private life; human resources manager Mr. Bratt (Dan Miller) who will say yes to anything; friendly mail room manager Mr. Twimble (Jeffry Weber) who sees a long career as an end in itself; whiny Bud Frump (Josh Vander Missen), a literal mama’s-boy attempting literal nepotism (advancing as J.B.’s nephew); very hands-on department head Mr. Gatch (Jay Stanley); and various other executives and secretaries. This being the mid-20th century, women are consigned to the latter group, which includes Rosemary (Lauren Werne), who sees Finch’s potential; Smitty (Maggie Meier), Rosemary’s good-spirited bestie; Miss Jones (Joi Blalock), J.B.’s confidante and right hand; and Hedy LaRue (Sarah Marone-Sowers), J.B.’s worst-kept-secret of a mistress.
Will Finch climb the entire corporate ladder in the span of two Broadway comedy musical acts? Well, it would be a pretty lame show if he didn’t – but it won’t be easy, especially with conniving Frump around.
Edwards manages to heap on enough charm as Finch to help us overlook, and even cheer on, his otherwise questionable dealings. In a time when marrying well was one of the few easily attainable options for women, Werne makes Rosemary come off as brilliant. Solid stage veteran Brinklow manages to always emanate boss vibes, even when dancing like a Groundhog or doing a little knitting to relax. Vander Missen and Marone-Sowers show talent beyond being comic foils, holding our interest each in their own quirky ways.
Overall, this production, directed by Paula Phelan with choreography by Linda Rees, orchestra conducted by Aaron Burkhart and stage managed by Melissa Yurechko, does a brilliant job of satirizing office life, applicable to past eras and, to a degree, today. Does the number “Coffee Break” advance the plot? It doesn’t matter, we’ve all been there and appreciate a shout-out to the sacred bean. One could envision that with a more diverse, yet still corrupt and clueless, executive staff, Finch’s grandson could “succeed” just as wildly now.
Join the “Brotherhood” of witnesses to this sharply witty white-collar adventure. Performances run through May 21 at the Hedback Theater, 1647 N. Alabama St., Indianapolis. Get tickets and info at footlite.org.