Review of ‘How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying’: “False advertising”

Loesser and Burrows’s musical classic returns to the stage in a new Off-West End production – also bringing back to the London scene long-standing legend Tracie Bennett. Guillermo Nazara shares his thoughts on the show, to let us know if there’s been any victory while playing this charade.

Ahhh… Nothing like not lifting a finger and taking all the credit from somebody else’s work… (and that’s definitely not my ghostwriter taking revenge on me…). We even have a very accurate expression for that matter in Spain, it’s called scratching your b…. I’m forgetting myself, aren’t I? Well, back to business (no pun intended) and let’s talk about the revival of one the most charming, hilarious and fraudulent (only regarding its plotline) musicals probably since the inception of the genre. How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (I can already tell this is gonna be a long journey…) has returned, but not in the form of a big, bombastic 45th Street show – mainly because this is London…

Yet, don’t be fooled by the word fringe as a synonym of downsizing – at least, not when it comes to its essence. The space may be little, but its heart is still grand. Georgie Ranckom’s approach on Loesser and Burrows’s (and Weinstock and Gilbert’s, too – no fighting, girls…) classic has kept all of the ingredients that make of it a true comedic masterpiece: allure, playfulness and a complete lack of caution when it comes to poking humour at any subject.

Starring Gabrielle Friedman in the leading male role of Finch (the gender swap only applying to the performer), I must admit I was dubious about such change when I first heard of it – and to some extent, I still believe the part would have worked better if kept in its original format. However, she does manage to bring some sweet spice to the character, which often manifests when triggered by Tracie Bennet’s raucously hilarious portrayal of big boss-tiny man J.B. Biggley. Truly a hat over another hat by creating farce over a parody, her rendition is both charming and catty – much in the way, though reversed as for their motivations, of Allie Daniel’s depiction of the love-yearning secretary Rosemary Pilkington, giving the part an extra dose of sass and brass that doesn’t achieve anything else than making her even more likable.

A similar thing happens with Elliot Gooch’s take on the nasty, in-slotted colleague Bud Frump – developing a campier image that, far from seeming inappropriate, endows the part with a more enjoyable and, all in all, sympathetic look. On the other hand, Danny Lane brings the house down through his darling acting as Mr. Twimble, also demonstrating good vocal abilities and, above all, his infectious personality while performing a musical number.

Choreographed by Alex Sarmiento, the dance sections are also worth of recognition, not only thanks to both its narrative and visual value, but also due to the cast’s flawless delivery – always perfectly timed and, much as the rest of their work, carried out with straightforward commitment while still feeling free-spirited. You honestly wouldn’t think it was press night unless you were told about – it looked as if they had been doing the job for far longer and had already got well-acquainted to it.

How To Succeed… (screw it, you know which show I’m talking about) has made a triumphant comeback across the pond, proving once again that strength of the material (when it has it) is more than enough to keep the awe afloat when given to the right pair of hands – or maybe group, in this case. With its only tiny flaw coming from the opening orchestrations (the use of woodwinds sounding a bit messy and incorrect in the beginning), this is by far a joyful effort that, nonetheless, does no justice to its title. They boast they didn’t try, but they totally did – and the experiment paid off.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

All pictures credit to Pamela Raith.

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying plays at London’s Southwark Playhouse Borough until 17 June. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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