Daniel Radcliffe aka Harry Potter is one determined, famous young man. Not content to rest on his well deserved laurels he, at the ripe old age of 21, has taken on the iconic role of J. Pierrepont Finch F-I-N-C-H made famous by Robert Morse or I should say the role made Mr. Morse famous in 1961 in a musical satire of big business called How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert – based on the book by Shepherd Mead.
It took New York by storm winning numerous Tony Awards and the Pulitzer. It was hysterical. It had great style and the musical numbers staged by Bob Fosse were spectacular in their simplicity. The sets and costumes a cartoon version of went on in the offices of the World-Wide Wicket Company.
Flash forward to Rob Ashford’s garish, over choreographed, slow and where-did-all-the-laughs-go-production, plodding along at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Mr. Ashford seems to believe that filling the large and not very attractive bee-hive set by Derek McLane with not very original robotic dance routines at every conceivable moment and making questionable staging choices will improve upon the great material supplied by the original writers. Where they were brilliant, under Mr. Ashford’s guidance How To…becomes routine. Except for the final “Brotherhood of Man” sequence which is by far the best number in the show. Just a bit too late.
If only Mr. Radcliffe had brought along his magical Wizard Wand. Despite all his energetic and hard work at song and dance (he had never done either before) his performance lacks character. He looks good. Sounds fine. And performs his dances admirably. But his comedic chops need to be developed. F-I-N-C-H is an unethical con man. And the actor portraying him must convey this and at the same time be adorable and lovable all the while knowing that the audience knows what he’s up to. Shining the spot light on him with a musical exclamation point every time he pulls a fast one with him smiling sheepishly with a knowing wink is not enough.
On the other hand John Larroquette as J. B. Biggley the head of W.W.W. a man prone to knitting and prowling nails every single laugh and excels in his two numbers – “Grand Old Ivy” with Radcliffe (and a slew of football dancers) and with Hedy La Rue, his mistress (a sometimes funny where she should be a bombastic knockout Tammy Blanchard) in “Love From a Heart of Gold”.
Biggley’s nephew Bud Frump (Christopher J. Hanke) knows exactly what Finch is up to (he isn’t any better) but tries too hard and misses many laughs as we focus on his great spectator shoes.
Only Miss Jones a fine Ellen Harvey and Smitty (Mary Faber with an unfortunate wig) show any promise. As Rosemary, the girl who sets her sights on Finch, Rose Hemingway misses the mark and there is zero chemistry between her and Radcliffe. Where their duet “Rosemary” should grab us and soar we get a gaggle of dancers emerging from behind the sofa instead.
The narrator, who in voice-over instructs Finch on his way up the corporate ladder, is a leaden and uninteresting Anderson Cooper. Just one more disappointment in the many disappointments on stage of the oft times boring How To Succeed…which doesn’t.
www.howtosucceedbroadway.com Photo: Ari Mintz
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