SEATTLE — “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” opened this past week before a 5th Avenue Theatre audience in the throes of love: Snorts, guffaws, big belly laughs, cheers and heartfelt, appreciative, extended applause.
Everyone who put this show together gets a gold star, especially the brilliant and funny cast.
Who better to play the lead character, the corporate climber J. Pierrepont Finch, than Eric Ankrim? The Tacoma native is one of busiest regional actors (Everett audiences know him from Village Theatre musicals) and one of only two locals in the recent sold-out production of Seattle Rep’s “Come From Away.”
Opposite Ankrim is Bellevue’s Sarah Rose Davis, also busy (she was Fanny Brice in Village’s “Funny Girl”) and talented, as the secretary Rosemary Pilkington.
More on the cast, outstanding direction, choreography, sets and costumes in just a minute.
Though Frank Loesser’s landmark “How to Succeed” won a Pulitzer Prize and a bunch of Tony Awards, it’s 55 years old now, and it doesn’t quite translate to today’s corporate world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great entertainment. Perhaps I’m ambivalent because I was such a fan of the “Mad Men” TV series. The musical feels a bit too light.
However, at the time it was written, “How to Succeed” was great satire about big business and the rat race, and it delightfully eviscerated men in suits.
The story follows the clever Finch from his job as a window washer to the company mail room to the top of the New York-based World Wide Wicket Co., all with the help of the guide book, which is voiced by former Seattle mayor Norm Rice. The story was written by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert based on the “guide book” by Shepherd Mead.
As Finch schmoozes his way up the ladder, he catches the eye of Miss Pilkington who dreams about being married to Finch and living in New Rochelle. Rosemary confides her crush to Smitty, the go-to secretary of the business and the funniest character in the show, played by Sarah Rudinoff.
Allen Fitzpatrick is company owner J.B. Biggley, Cristin Hubbard is his secretary Miss Jones and Jessica Skerritt is fabulous as Hedy LaRue, Biggley’s paramour. Top physical comedian Adam Standley is Biggley’s nephew Bud Frump. Allen Galli as Wally Womper and Jeff Steitzer as Bert Bratt round out the fine main cast. The ensemble is great, too, in this story of office hanky panky, ambition and greed.
Especially entertaining were ensemble pieces such as “Coffee Break,” which happens when an empty coffee pot is delivered to the office. The workers collapse and whine. Now that felt familiar.
Fun tunes like “The Company Way,” “Brotherhood of Man” and “I Believe In You” — the latter set in the executive washroom — are accompanied by sexy choreography inspired by Bob Fosse. The mod set design is obviously inspired by pop artist Piet Mondrian. Spoiler alert: Look for Mondrian’s famous dress (you’ll know it when you see it) on Rosemary.
The 5th Avenue’s producing artistic director Bill Berry directs the show, with choreography by Bob Richard and music direction by Dan Pardo.
One thing I hope the 5th folks deal with is that, because Act 1 is more than 90 minutes long, intermission is short, and people are bringing drinks back to their seats. Act 2 started with too many of the audience walking back to their seats long after the entr’acte. It’s too funny to miss any of it.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.
If you go
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” plays through Feb. 21 at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle. For single tickets (starting at $29) and information, go to www.5thavenue.org or call the Box Office at 206-625-1900.