A Imaginative Farce “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying”

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Review

Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom [email protected]

The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts presented the Frank Loesser Broadway hit musical, “How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.” The show ran during November 18 – 22, 2015 at DA’s campus in the San Marco neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida.

untitled-5058The plot focuses on the meteoric rise of J. Pierrepoint Finch from window washer to mailroom clerk to the head of World Wide Wickets within a matter of weeks. He uses a book on how to succeed (narrated by Brian Sexton) as his guide, along with charm, flattery, and manipulation to reach his goals.

The leading character of Mr. Finch (and the role that propelled Robert Morse to fame) was played by Logan Smith, whom we had seen previously in DA’S version of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Fame.” Smith’s charm and charisma filled the stage, as did his outstanding vocal talents.

untitled-6035Finch’s romantic interest is Rosemary, one of the firm’s many secretaries, delightfully played by Ana Puig. Her fabulous voice was showcased during a breathtaking blended rendition of “Rosemary.”

Director Kevin Covert has done some fantastic casting in his debut as Chair of Theatre at DASOTA. Mr. Covert was a performer in a number of Broadway musicals, and appeared in the 2011 version of “How to Succeed,” which starred Daniel Radcliffe as Finch. Since arriving in Jacksonville, Covert has appeared in two musicals at the Alhambra Theatre.

untitled-5380“How to Succeed” is a farce, and the unique Abe Burrows characters are larger than life. Rosemary’s best friend is Smitty (Gena Heylock), who joins Rosemary and Finch in “Been a Long Day.” The big boss is JB Biggley, played hilariously by Dylan Tossavainen. Biggley is married but has an outside fling going on with the seductive Hedy LaRue. Biggley gets her hired as a secretary despite the fact that she can only type twelve words a minute. The role is played by Emily Suarez, who sings well; the character is not quite as scatter-brained as we have seen in some other versions of the show.

Finch’s rival and a thorn in his side is Bud Frump, Biggley’s repugnant nephew, played with zany physical comedy by Jacob Sims. The ambition-driven Finch is not above using others to get to the top: they include Mr. Twimble (Avery Sedlacek), Mr. Gatch (Cole Fowler), and Mr. Bratt (Kamari Saxon). Biggley’s private secretary, Miss Jones (Jasmine Walters), carries out her assignments in a restrained professional manner until Act Two, when she lets her hair down and belts out a rousing song in the “Brotherhood of Man” number. Logan Vaccaro makes a brief appearance as Mr. Ovington, a newly hired advertising manager, who is quickly fired when Biggley, a proud graduate of Old Ivy College, learns that he graduated from a rival school. Sophie Luedi is a featured character as Ms. Krumholtz, Gatch’s secretary. Taylor Payne and Miranda Levo appear in two humorous cameo roles as scrubwomen.

untitled-5027The dancing in this production was some of the most imaginative we have ever seen on stage and the numbers were mesmerizing. The choreographer was MJ Slinger, who was in the 2011 Broadway production. Director Covert had worked with him and asked him to visit Jacksonville to provide his expertise for this show.

The actors we have previously mentioned were involved in many of the dance numbers, but a large ensemble of students who were executives and secretaries performed the jaw dropping routines. The Executives were: Josh Johnson, Carter Delegal, Blake McClure, Nick Dondero, Liam Wirsansky, Alex Aponte, Oliver Rumney, Jackson Lamb, Liam Flaherty, and Joel Oliver.

The Secretaries were: Hannah Reeves, Sydney Leiser, Lauren Bell, Bertha Jones, Regan Briggs, Emma Towler, Breanna Schuman, and Allison Hagan.

untitled-6057Since this is an after-the-fact review, we are going to tell you how this farce-satire ends; something we usually avoid as critics. After Finch is promoted to Vice President of Advertising, he encounters a snag in his phenomenal upward trajectory when he proposes a weekly TV treasure hunt, with Hedy appearing as the company spokesperson. Unfortunately, when Hedy, dressed in a pirate’s costume, is asked to swear with her hand on the Holy Book that she has no knowledge of where the shares are hidden, she has a sudden moment of honesty and reveals that the stock is hidden in the corporation’s ten worldwide buildings. Worldwide pandemonium ensues as the frenzied employees search for the treasure.

Mr. Womper (Alec Consentino), Chairman of the Board, calls a meeting of the company executives to deal with the aftermath of the crisis. As Finch is about to be fired for his error in judgment, he addresses the board, telling the story of his rise in the company. When he mentions he started as a window washer, a surprise is revealed: Mr. Womper was also a window washer earlier in his career. Instant rapport! In a fantastic ending, Womper retires and marries Hedy, while Finch replaces him as Chairman of WWW, and plans to marry Rosemary.

untitled-5325The gorgeous set by Designer Nolan O’Dell had offices with extensive wooden paneling, two stories, and a clever elevator system.

DASOTA recently installed new technical equipment (lights and sound, made possible by the generous contributions of local philanthropist Lawrence DuBow), and Technical Director Todd Collins had the upgraded system working to perfection.

The musical direction by Jeffery Clayton featured marvelous voices singing to music by a twenty-two piece orchestra hidden away under the stage and conducted by Don Zentz.

Sally Pettegrew’s 1960s costume design portrayed the era accurately, with the men in white dress shirts, suits and skinny ties, and colorful attire worn by the women. However, we did find it was somewhat difficult to establish an on stage time frame, because the ladies changed clothes for only one scene. Lack of variety wasn’t as apparent with the men’s clothing, since they wore mostly neutral colors, and our hero Finch did change suits and ties more than once.

If you missed the show, you can easily find a copy of the 1967 film, also a musical, or you can see it live in the summer of 2016 when it will be on stage at Orange Park Community Theatre.

Thank you DASOTA, for another spectacular evening of theatre. This show was a real treat, filled with vibrant performers, great energy, great dancing and great songs.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.