Theatre Review: “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” @ Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 06/25/11

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.

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6 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” @ Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 06/25/11

  1. I agree with almost everything. John Larroquette was so spectacular. Also, Charlie Williams had my attention every time he was on stage, no matter who else was on with him. I did love Rose Hemingway though. I thought she did a fantastic job. As for the posters with Daniel on them…. I actually said to my friend “looks like if he goes the show will close.” But I guess he is the only thing they think will sell tickets.

  2. It is a shame that someone as talented as Radcliffe can’t make it look effortless. That is the staple of the business. To be perfect, to be great, you have to make it look effortless – to make it look so real and effortless that the audience feels like they’re a part of the action no matter how unrealistic the plot. And if you look like you’re trying to hard, you probably won’t be able to keep up the momentum throughout the rest of your run.

    I saw Promises, Promises last year. It was a fun show. Same feel as How to Succeed. It had good sets too. I haven’t seen the Broadway production of How to Succeed, but based on videos I’ve seen, they really failed to make the sets interesting. I’ve noticed that it’s a lot harder to have good sets with a big stage than with a small stage. I’ve seen high school productions with more intriguing, enjoyable sets than that of this Broadway production. But at least the choreography is top notch.

    I first saw How to Succeed at a high school production of it, and it was hilarious. It was so well done (probably better than the Broadway production, to tell the truth), that it instantly became a favorite show of mine. I saw a college production a few years ago that was pretty good. But then I saw the movie… which totally ruined it for me. They cut the best songs out of the movie, and I really don’t like Robert Morse at all in the role of Finch. Broderick was OK, and I own the soundtracks to both of the earlier Broadway productions, and I don’t plan on buying the soundtrack to the new production, but for some reason I’m more endeared to Radcliffe (and it’s not because he’s Harry Potter). I guess sometimes it’s good to see someone fresh and different take on a role, especially since I didn’t love the first two Broadway Finches.

  3. I don’t understand. Why would his age make that big of a difference? I could understand if the WAY Radcliffe himself plays the role might make that difference, but i don’t understand how age comes into it.

    1. How would it NOT change the story? That’s like asking what if Harold Hill in The Music Man was 21 years old? It doesn’t change the “story” but it changes EVERY intention of the character.

  4. I still don’t understand (i am ashamed to say I am not very familiar with the plot or characters in the Music Man). I just don’t see how being young makes his intentions worse. If anything it seems like his youth would have the opposite effect because it would make the character seem more innocent and humble. Intuitively, I would expect more manipulative intentions from an older, more experienced person, which Finch is not. how does his youth make it no longer seem like he is using his charm, or is in the right place at the right time?

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