by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The FSCJ Artist Series and the Nathan Wilson Center for the Arts presented the 8th Annual High School Summer Musical Theatre Experience on July 26. It will run at 11901 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville until August 4.
The delightful musical “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying” debuted in 1961, and garnered seven Tony awards along with the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was revived in 1995 and 2011 with great success. “How to Succeed” was made into a very popular movie in 1967 and is still shown on TV. You can also find copies of it at the local public library.
Michael Lipp, as Artistic Director, provided stellar guidance for the challenging out-sized production. This high velocity farce is the story of an ambitious young window washer who charms his way to the top of the World Wide Wicket Company by using his wits and a self-help book that he relies on for guidance every step of the way. Frank Loesser’s award winning music includes songs like “I Believe in You”, “The Company Way”, “Coffee Break”, “The Brotherhood of Man”, “A Secretary is not a Toy” and “Rosemary”. This is a real song fest with over twenty energetic songs.
We counted 51 actors in the show from high schools all over North Florida. Fletcher Senior High School and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts led the way in the number of participants. Most are playing roles much older than their actual ages and their characterizations were right on the mark.
The production has 22 different scenes and many are repeated, making it some 40 scene changes in the course of the evening. Kudos to Stage Manager Ashley Weldon and her marvelous stage crew for the swift and precise changes of the elaborate sets. Scene Designer Johnny Pettegrew has created a fabulous design using sliding panels with geometric lattices that worked well with the script. With this design, as Finch, our former window washer, ascends the corporate ladder, he receives a new and larger office with each promotion. As an added attraction, watching the rapid set changes is mesmerizing.
Costume Designer Argie Mitra and her crew created and co-coordinated the clothing of the corporate world in 1961, when men wore dark suits and skinny ties to work and women wore modest skirts and dresses and heels and hose.
The orchestra under the direction of Dr. Paul Weikle had fourteen musicians. They performed flawlessly at the performance we saw. This show has two choreographers; Amber Daniels created the show numbers and Talani Torres created the tap dance numbers. The big production dance scenes, involving twenty or more dancers, were loudly appreciated by the audience. Many of the main characters wore mikes; dialogue and lyrics were crystal clear to audience members throughout the auditorium.
One of the reasons we like this show is because many of the unique Abe Burrows characters have parts that are larger than life. There is, of course, the leading man, J. Pierrepont Finch, a window washer extraordinaire. J. D. REES is absolutely perfect for this role. As Finch, Rees charmingly plays down his bravura and has a flawless comic decorum which means getting every posible laugh. Oh, we almost forgot to tell you he can really sing, and sing he does, and also does some mean tap dancing.
The romantic interest is Rosemary, played by SARA GIRARD, who is lovely and a ray of sunshine for an ambitious employee like Finch. Ms.Girard sings well and has a melt your heart smile. Rosemary’s best friend, Smitty, ISABELLA MARTINEZ, has an impressive voice as well as she belts out “Cinderella Darling”. BRADLEY BETROS is hilarious as the big boss J. B. Biggley, who has a bit of romance going on the side with the seductive and flighty redhead Hedy (RACHEL SAMUELS). Finch’s rival in the company is the very funny BRIAN ALFORD as Frump, a man who can smile but has no soul, and is also Biggley’s nephew.
We find out that Biggley’s private secretary Miss Jones (ESSENCE WILLIAMS) can really sing late in the show in one of the big dance numbers. Our man Finch uses several executives as stepping stones on his way to the top: they include Mr. Twimble(BRET BELCHER), Mr.Gatch (IAN RAMOS), and Mr. Bratt (CHESTERFIELD POLKEY). LANDON DEAR, as Chairman of the Board Mr. Womper, makes a late but important entrance in the show, saving young Finch’s career.
Also appearing in featured roles were JASMINE WALTERS (Miss Krumholtz), JACOB SIMS (Tackaberry), KEITH SMITH (Jenkins), KAMREN LIVINGSTON (Toynbee), NICHOLAS JANKOWSKI (Peterson), CHARLIE VANCINI (Ovington), MATHEW BAUSTISTA (Davis), JACKSON LAMB (Johnson), JOSHUA JOHNSON (Mathews), KYLE GEARY (Policeman), and KAITIE WILSON and CAROLINE YAZDIYA (Scrubwomen).
Others in this ensemble cast include: Paul Caldwell, Sydney Ellis, Kiernan O’Connor, Brittany Nievinski, Sydney Norris, Erin Messersmith, Kendall Messersmith, Lindsay Anderson, Hannah Beatty, Ainsley Cherry, Keeley Doski, Edyn Gottlieb, Lauren Harrell, Montanna Jenkins, Talia Kolenc, Savannah LeBlanc, Sophie Luedi, Hannah Mendillo, Katie Montana, Samantha Nelson, Asha Printup, Jesse Raymer, Maggie Shannon, Veronica Vale, Logan Mays, and Jacob Wall.
The show has many comic lines with plenty of razzle dazzle numbers and this fine production is an absolute joy to watch. The ticket prices are very modest for a show of this quality. Mr. Pettegrew’s set could be on Broadway; it was built by twenty or so high school students under the supervision of the designer and Scene Shop Supervisor Robert Rupp. When you go, be sure to read Producer/Program Director Beth Harvey’s notes in the program. They are both informative and entertaining. Ms. Harvey says one of the biggest challenges in putting on this show was getting the guys to cut their hair!!! Call (904) 646-2222 or 442-2929 for reservations.