How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying should be renamed How to Succeed on Broadway Without Really Trying. The answer: put Daniel Radcliffe, star of seven Harry Potter movies, in the starring role and you will have success no matter what. It’s called stunt casting and there’s little shame in it, especially when Radcliffe’s face is about three times as big as the title of the musical itself. The funniest part of this entire thing is that Radcliffe isn’t really the star of the show, John Larroquette is and yet his name isn’t even on the poster. Go figure.
This was the first time I had ever seen How to Succeed… even though it’s a staple in the community and high school theatre across America. Of course, I’m familiar with its fantastic 11 o’clock number, “Brotherhood of Man” but that was about it. While I generally enjoyed myself, I didn’t fall in love with this production or the show itself but at the same time, I’m really glad I saw it and I had a great time.
My favorite part of show was John Larroquette’s (J.B. Biggley) humorous physicality. Every word was nuanced with a gesture that was hilarious. Larroquette understands comedy and every time he was on stage I was in stitches. It’s no wonder he won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor. He’s brilliant.
Daniel Radcliffe (J. Pierrepont Finch) was also very good. His charming demeanor and sparkly smile made it believable that he was climbing the corporate ladder with only his wit and charisma. His dancing was surprisingly excellent and his American accent was almost flawless. The issue I had with Radcliffe was that he was working way too hard. Larroquette’s performance was effortless and easy, but Radcliffe was working for every note he sang, every move he made and every beat in the script. He’s one of the hardest working leads on Broadway (and that isn’t necessarily a compliment). His love interest, Rosemary Pilkington (Rose Hemingway) was uninteresting and forgettable. Hemingway’s Broadway debut, opposite Radcliffe, is a big role and I kept wishing a bigger, more suitable star was in her shoes.
Rob Ashford’s direction and choreography was sleek and fun! My favorite part of the production (besides Larroquette) was the choreography. The male chorus was phenomenal, but there was one dancer that stole the show: Charlie Williams (Mr. Jenkins). He is one of the best dancers I’ve seen on Broadway and not because he can kick past his head, but because he is a genuinely talented dancer. I can’t wait to see his career blossom because he honestly stole the show in all of the dance numbers, especially in the rousing rendition of “Brotherhood of Man”.
The original J. Pierrepont Finch, Robert Morse was 32 years old when he played this part. Matthew Broderick was 34 years old when he played Finch in the 1996 revival. Daniel Radcliffe is 22 years old. That’s a huge difference to the story. It radically changes everything. Instead of Finch always being in the right spot at the right time and using his charm to get what he wants, it now feels like a giant, manipulative scheme that Finch has created in his mind. You don’t even really believe that he was a bonafide window-washer but only says he was to get Chairman of the Board, Wally Womper (Rob Bartlett), on his side in the end so that Finch can become Chairman of the Board himself. And because the sentiment has changed, it’s not as endearing as it once was.
Ultimately, I think Ashford did a good job with this production of How to Succeed… Is it my favorite show? No. Is it that memorable? Not really. Was it worth seeing? Yes. While, they are using Daniel Radcliffe to get Harry Potter fans into the seats, I think the production is well worth your time, but don’t be surprised if you aren’t blown out of your chair.