Footlite ‘Succeeds’

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.

Guys and Dolls and Footlite

By John Lyle Belden

At last, Footlite Musicals said “can do” to their latest show, with “Luck being a Lady” after some “persons developed a cough” but these people all say “sit down” and enjoy for one more week.

If you are familiar with those references then you know that, after its initial delay, the popular classic musical “Guys & Dolls” is on stage a the Hedback through Dec. 4. Written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows with songs by Frank Loesser, this 1950 Broadway hit is based on short stories by Damon Runyon about various characters on the streets of Depression-era New York City.

Some gamblers seek a high-stakes dice game and look to popular cohort Nathan Detroit (Thom Brown) to set it up, in spite of the NYPD’s Lt. Brannigan (David Johnson) keeping close tabs on the most likely locations. Local high-roller Harry the Horse (Jack London) has even brought in Big Jule (Lot Turner) out of Chicago. Nathan’s companions Nicely-Nicely (Scott McFadden) and Benny (Jeffry J. Weber) assure all that craps will occur, but Detroit must first come up with some quick cash to pay off Joey Biltmore (Leo Goffinet).

Seeing a sure-fire bet, Nathan Detroit wagers smooth-talking gambler Sky Masterson (Christopher Vojtko), who just returned from Las Vegas loaded with cash, that he can’t persuade Save-A-Soul Mission “Sergeant” Sarah Brown (Natalie Marchal) to travel to Havana with him. Sky takes that action, and odds are this will lead to one wild, funny, and romantic adventure.

The cast also includes Marie Beason as the Mission’s Gen. Cartwright, who arrives for a surprise inspection; Steve Demuth as Mission drummer Arvide Abernathy, Sarah’s uncle and father figure; and most wonderfully, Jonna Kauffman as Miss Adelaide, showgirl and Nathan’s long-long-long-time fiancé.

Indeed, while the Guys hold their own, it is the “Dolls” who truly shine in this production, with Marchal giving an exceptional performance in her Footlite debut, while Kauffman charms as the girl who’s a bit more smart and savvy than she lets on. And you can tell Beason is having fun as the evangelist just pleased to see sinners come in the door, whatever the pretext.

Unlike the floating craps game, this action will be easy to find: 1847 N. Alabama in downtown Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at footlite.org.

Civic youth stake a sure bet

By John Lyle Belden

If you didn’t know the ages of the actors in Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of the classic Frank Loesser musical, “Guys and Dolls,” you would be hard-pressed to guess. Yes, this is the summer show by the Civic’s Young Artist Program for ages 14-18, but those strong voices, dancing chops and overall talent on display compare with any professional tour you’re likely to see.

They bring afresh the story first presented to their great-grandparents’ generation in 1950: Nathan Detroit (Hayden Elefante) needs a place to host his infamous floating craps game, but NYPD Lt. Brannigan (Daniel Miller) is watching all his usual haunts. So, to finance a likely location, Detroit makes a can’t-miss bet with high-roller Sky Masterson (Nathan Nouri) – that he can’t sweep away stoic Salvation Army Sgt. Sarah Brown (Katelyn Soards) on a dinner date to Cuba. Meanwhile, Detroit’s got a doll of his own to worry about; his long-time fiance, showgirl Adelaide (Katherine Patterson), is increasingly allergic to not being married.

Nouri and Soards’ voices soar operatically as they win our hearts. Meanwhile, Elefante is very entertaining and Patterson gives an award-worthy performance. And then there’s Detroit’s right-hand man Nicely-Nicely Johnson, played oh so nicely by Mahesh Gupta. Kudos also to Emily Chrzanoski as Sister Abernathy and Luke Vreeman as Chicago gangster Big Jule.

This musical is directed and choreographed by Anne Beck, who gives these teens quite a workout. The clever dance-filled opening number, setting the stage of the mean streets of New York, is practically a show in itself.

This has been one of my favorite musicals, with hits like “Fugue for Tinhorns (‘I got the horse right here…’)” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” – Wendy likes “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Luck Be a Lady” – and this production did not disappoint. But it’s only for one weekend, with performances through Sunday, July 29, at the Tarkington theatre in the Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Carmel. See civictheatre.org for details and tickets.