Review: “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Porchlight Music Theatre)

(L to R) Tyler Ravelson as “J. Pierrepont Finch,” Matthias Austin as “Twimble” and John Keating as “Bud Frump” (Photo by Kelsey Jorissen)
(L to R) Tyler Ravelson as “J. Pierrepont Finch,” Matthias Austin as “Twimble” and John Keating as “Bud Frump”
(Photo by Kelsey Jorissen)

Show: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Company: Porchlight Music Theatre

Venue: Stage 773 Thrust

Die Roll: 18

Audience seeing Porchlight Music Theatre’s current production of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” will see a piece that is over 50 years old, and yet remains very fresh.  The show, whose long title can be abbreviated to “H2$”, has been one of my favorites for years.  And the script, while centered around the 1960’s environment with which many are only familiar thanks to AMC’s “Mad Men”, is still sharp and pointed in its commentary on life in today’s corporate world.

A young, ambitious man who wants to make it big turns to a self-help book about succeeding in business.  By following its instructions he proceeds from window washer to mail room clerk to junior executive… eventually all the way to chairman of the board.  His meteoric rise is not only facilitated by his following the book’s advice, but also a lot of happy accidents and his undying charm/likability.

J. Pierrepont Finch has to have that likability factor, or his scheming makes him just a manipulator of men, and not a protagonist for whom we can cheer when success comes.  As played by Tyler Ravelson, the character is less charming and more scheming.  More awkward and just off a bit.  Were I to encounter a person who acted as he does in real life, I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him, and I’d avoid looking directly into those cold dead eyes.  In short, the likability factor of Finch is missing.

Many of the other characters are really strong.  Sharisse Hamilton’s turn as Smitty is exactly what the character should be.  John Keating’s take on the irritating Bud Frump (who normally is the primary foil to Finch) is wonderfully fun.  It’s almost cartoonish, but it fits in the world created by director Rob Lindley.  In fact, it is a bit of cartoonish self-awareness (a la Looney Toons) that allows this show to work so well.  There’s a touch of “we’re putting on a play” at all times, and that actually clicks with, rather than detracts from, the show’s quality.

The costumes, designed by Bill Morey, went furthest toward the aim of creating Lindley’s world.  They looked sharp and spot on for the era.  The set by Jeffrey Kmiec brought the play’s mix of broad comedy and nostalgia to the fore.

There were some inconsistencies within the execution of the sound design and engineering that made the production less fulfilling than it otherwise would have been.  Some of the singers had the pipes to not need extra amplification, while others (namely Elizabeth Telford as Rosemary) were mic’d so heavily that two lines prior to each of their pieces the amplification audibly took over.

While the production values of this show are great, it is the strength of the script that carries the show.  Despite weaknesses in its two leads’ performances, the laughs are all still there in the predictable places that the laughs have been for the last 50 years.  There’s comfort in that.  There’s also still brilliance in that.  The jokes have not gone stale.

Porchlight has done an admirable job with the play.  I just wish I could have had a hero worthy of  his own words: “I believe in you”.


TEN WORD SUMMARY:  Corporate climber makes quick work of success.  Watch your back!

RATING: d10 – “Worth Going To”