Robbins, Stoneham know just ‘How to Succeed’
STONEHAM — The director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins has apparently found how to succeed in a musical when she works at the Stoneham Theatre, having directed and choreographed a Norton Award-winning production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and winning an IRNE Award for her choreography of “42nd Street.”
This time, Robbins leads the way in a well-crafted, tuneful, high-stepping production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” now at the Stoneham Theatre through June 7.
There are some common threads among the three works, the most obvious being the return of the effervescent Ephie Aardema, who starred in both “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “42nd Street” and here portrays Rosemary Pilkington, the love interest. Her energy, charisma, and great stage presence set the standard for an excellent cast.
Frank Loesser (“Guys and Doll,“ “The Most Happy Fella”) was a vastly underrated composer who wrote some show tunes that have already stood the test of time. For “How to Succeed” he crafted ballads such as “Rosemary” and “I Believe in You” alongside some rousing production numbers that Robbins the choreographer takes full advantage of, including “The Company Way,” “Coffee Break,” “Been A Long Day,” and the raise-the-roof “Brotherhood of Man.”
The play’s book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert based on Shepherd Mead’s book is slyly witty, poking fun at bloated corporate structures, Ivy League schools and recognizing the overwhelmingly sexist attitudes that were rampant a half-century ago.
Yes, the attitudes expressed in songs such as “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “A Secretary is not a Toy” are of a different time and place and but they are spot-on it in the context of their time, and here they are well-performed.
The original Broadway production in 1961 won a Tony for Best Musical — and a Pulitzer, to boot — and made a star out of gap-tooted Newton native Robert Morse, seen most recently in “Mad Men,” a TV show that like “How to Succeed” also captured the treatment of women in the workplace a half-century ago. Former “Harry Potter” Daniel Radcliffe then starred as Finch in the recent Broadway revival.
The premise is that window-washer J. Pierrepont Finch (Tyler Bradley Indyck) finds a book that guarantees he can rise quickly and easily in the corporate world. He follows its tenets closely, and soon he is always in the right place whenever lighting strikes at the World Wide Wicket Company and a position opens up.
He starts in the mail room, where he catches the eye of longtime mail room chief Mr. Twimble (Robert Saoud), much to the disgust of Finch’s nemesis Bud Frump (Angelo McDonough), the ultra-irritating nephew of company President JB Biggley (Neil A. Casey).
Frump is mystified by the way Finch keeps climbing the corporate ladder three steps at a time while Frump is stuck in neutral. Finch, meanwhile, is so obsessed with getting ahead it threatens to derail his relationship with Aardema’s Rosemary, who has her sights set on Finch and a home in New Rochelle, N.Y.
The women of “How To” are especially wonderful, starting with Aardema but including Ceit Zweil as Smitty, the good-hearted and much put-upon secretary who shines with Indyck and Aardema in “Been a Long Day.” Sarah DeLima is just right as Miss Jones, Biggley’s longtime secretary who is charmed by Finch, and Aimee Doherty is right in the middle of the action as Hedy LaRue, a sexy secretary with minimal qualifications for her job but maximum connections with Biggley. Think “Mad Men’s” Joan Harris without the skills. But she does know how to play the game.
The ladies all shine in the “Paris Original” production number.
Indyck as Finch is at once conniving, opportunistic, ambitious, and charming, worming his way out of difficulty, and convincing as he croons to the men’s room mirror “I Believe in You.”
Neil A. Casey has shown off his masterful comic timing in a variety of productions, and here he is the smug, conniving, JB Biggley. In a role once played by the late, legendary Rudy Vallee, he is spot-on as, alongside Indyck, he exhorts the values of his beloved Groundhogs in “Grand Old Ivy.”
The versatile Russell Garrett is an expert at office politics and survival as Bratt, and Nick Sulfaro and Kevin Patrick Martin also do a nice job in supporting roles.
Jenna McFarland Lord’s set features sliding panels that move quickly to change to various areas of the World Wide Wicket Company, Elisabetta Polito’s costumes are period-perfect, John Eckert’s lighting is effective and Jim Rice’s musical direction is sprightly and en pointe.
“How To Succeed” is a delight, an excellent ensemble smartly led, with a score that will leave you humming several tunes as you leave the theater.
The Stoneham Theatre production of “How to Succeed in Business Wihtout Really Trying.” Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock,and Willie Gilbert. Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Based upon the book by Shepherd Mead. Directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Set design Jenna McFarland Lord. Lighting by John Eckert. Sound by John Stone. Costumes by Elisabetta Polito. Musical direction by Jim Rice. At: Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham, through June 7. Tickets: $50-$55, 781-279-2200,www.stonehamtheatre .org