Sunday, April 03, 2011

THE ADDAMS FAMILY last Saturday afternoon had left me in a state of terminal boredom thinking I never EVER wanted to see another musical again. Who could come riding to my cultural rescue? Step forward Frank Loesser - I should have guessed.

On Saturday evening we went to see the last preview of Loesser's 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.
I have never seen the show - either on stage or film - so it was nice to experience it all through this bright and breezy production. I am guessing it's distinctly American flavour explains why it has not been seen in London since it's 1963 premiere although Joe McFadden and James Bolam starred in a production at Chichester in 2005.

I guess there is a chance we will see this production here as it marks the musical debut of one Daniel Radcliffe and he has chosen his show well. And no, he doesn't show his arse in this one.
The lead character of J. Pierrepont Finch, a window cleaner who by following the dryly Machiavellian instructions of his How To... book manages to rise up through the corporate world of World Wide Wicket Company, is a fairly unlikeable character on paper so you need a performer of unshakable charm to make him sympathetic. Luckily director/choreographer Rob Ashford has Daniel Radcliffe and what he brings to the party is an instant likability, bags of charm and - who knew? - a nice singing voice and unflagging energy in the dance routines.

I have had a quick squint at the reviews and some seem very grudging about his performance. I suspect the taste of sour grapes in the air - get over yourselves, you have an actor who can do the job, does it surprisingly well and is getting a charming book show on where otherwise there would be a jukebox musical.After the tired vaudeville shtick of THE ADDAMS FAMILY and the poe-faced cluelessness of SPIDER-MOOSE it was a real joy to watch a show which had a funny book with likeable characters - GUYS AND DOLLS co-writer Abe Burrows co-wrote this too - and a score that not only was good to listen to but that moved the story along and gave the characters a little more depth.

Frank Loesser wrote the scores to only six musicals and one of them, GUYS AND DOLLS, has my enduring affection as being the show that, in Richard Eyre's production at the National Theatre in 1982, was my entry into the world of theatre-going. WHERE'S CHARLEY? was seen in NY for the prestigious Encores series last month but has only been seen in London twice - I guess London managements are more likely to put on CHARLEY'S AUNT rather than the US musical! THE MOST HAPPY FELLA is rarely seen as is GREENWILLOW while PLEASURES AND PALACES has not been seen since it's 1965 Boston try-out when Loesser cancelled it and it's Broadway run.
His conversational, vernacular lyrics suit the business milieu of the show - not knowing the show I was only familiar with two of the numbers: the show's hit I BELIEVE IN YOU and the rousing finale BROTHERHOOD OF MAN. I suspect I will be getting the cast recording!

If I have a criticism of the show it's that while Rob Ashford's direction keeps the energy up and the plot running smoothly, his choreography seemed at times at odds with the score and seemed at times to pull the focus away from the dancing, as t'where. However I did like his Fosse-esque moves for the men in the office plotting to knock Finch off his perch. Boom and, indeed, boom.I wasn't overly sold on Derek McLane's MAD MEN-ish design but I don't want to criticise the show too much as it was such fun.

Ashford has cast fine performers in all the roles - John Larroquette was nicely harassed as J.B. the boss who picks Finch to run his advertising after believing they share the same college and Christopher J. Hanke had great fun as J.B.'s conniving nephew who is Finch's rival for the Big Job. Ashford also has CNN's Anderson Cooper providing the dry, laconic narration to Finch's progress.

Rose Hemingway was a delight as Rosemary, the secretary who sets her cap at Finch and Tammy Blanchard was a riot as Hedy LaRue, J.B.'s mistress who he sneaks into the company as a secretary. She had echo's of G&D's Miss Adelaide, a good-natured broad who sashays before she thinks.

Mary Faber as Rosemary's office friend and Ellen Harvey as J.B.'s tough-as-nails secretary Miss Jones also made an impression.

So thank you Rob Ashford, Daniel Radcliffe and Frank Loesser for restoring my faith in theatre musicals!

No comments: