How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Wed 15th – Sat 25th March 2017


Clare Cavenagh

at 17:06 on 16th Mar 2017



How to Succeed in Business Without Really trying was a difficult, mixed-bag of a show. The play itself is funny, and the songs mostly effective, although it's certainly not up there with the greats. This production is also fun and often effective, with some good performances, and lots of potential, but for the moment is somewhat hamstrung by its being a little under-rehearsed. Although I'm sure this show will grow into itself over the course of its two-week run, for the moment it often feels a little bit undercooked.

The title of the show comes from a self help manual which falls into the hands of J. Pierrepont Finch (Toby Waterworth) and inspires his astronomic rise through the business world. Along the way he encounters one arch nemesis, Bud Frump (Joe Pieri), one major love interest, Rosemary (Rachel-Marie Weiss) and one highly compromised boss, J. P. Biggley (Stanley Thomas). Throughout, Finch retains his ability to make every situation work to his advantage, farcically yet seamlessly fumbling his way through problem after problem.

Waterworth does a fine job as Finch. He's charming and friendly and therefore manages to keep the audience onside all through his quest to rise in the world of business, but also gives them an insight into the 'executive charm' which dupes I mean convinces his superiors that he's worthy of near-constant promotion. His singing and dancing are spirited and skilled, and his slimy business smile (highlighted with a blinding spotlight) wins every time.

But it's Joe Pieri who steals the show as his arch enemy Bud Frump, the nephew of company president Biggley, and a brilliant example of both the pitfalls, and the occasional irresistibility of workplace nepotism. Pieri is viciously funny, and provides the perfect vindictive foil to the charismatic Finch. He was especially impressive during one dance number close to the close of the show when he managed to dance in time with the other cast members, while looking as though the dancing itself were a rebellion of his body which he resented, but was nevertheless unable to stop.

The music in this show was well played by the band from what could be heard in the auditorium, but unfortunately, they were unevenly amplified, leaving the sound which made it through to the auditorium awkwardly out-of-balance (the piano was always loud and clear, but brass came through as a barely-audible whisper). The songs are also very strange in terms of their placement and lyrics, in ways which are often utterly delightful: they lend the whole show the feeling of being a kind of hallucinogenic fever-dream. Highlights include a song praising the virtues of 'brotherhood' with a female employee sitting patiently on a chaise-longue in the background, and another entitled 'A Secretary is not a Toy'.

This show has great potential to be a lot of fun, and is funny and entertaining as it is, but would benefit from a little more rehearsal time to ripen. There were many things which didn't quite work. Lines were fluffed quite regularly, some singing was a little off-key, some choreography was not quite mastered, some movement of props and sets did not go according to plan. The run is long, and things will come together over time, but for the moment it feels a little premature.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a very strange, but very funny show, and this production of it features quite a few excellent performances. Unfortunately, it's somewhat marred by mistakes and sloppiness at this point, although I'm confident it will improve over time.


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