March 20, 2011

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

First published at, special thanks to LC Neal for her excellent editing.

New York, New York—Spring Breakers headed to the Big Apple will want to see the 50th anniversary revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, in previews at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. The show, starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame, officially opens Sunday, March 27.

The Broadway community has wondered for months: can the child star sing, can he dance, and will he be able to pull off American English with his crisp British accent? How to Succeed is not Radcliffe’s Broadway debut; his first theatrical performance was an extremely dramatic one, as the deeply disturbed lead in the 2007 revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

As I sat in the theater with my family during a March 9th preview, I wanted to shout, yes, yes, and yes. Our first glimpse of Radcliffe as J. Pierpont Finch, the window washer (a surprise I won’t reveal) caused the audience of primarily young adults to scream with anticipation. Radcliffe did not disappoint, on stage quickly with the chorus in the show’s title song. While he won’t soon be added to the Three Tenors, his voice was more than adequate for the role, and his agile and quick dance steps and charm more than made up for what he lacked in voice.

Radcliffe is joined by familiar television star John Larroquette (Night Court), in his first Broadway role. Radcliffe works his way from window washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Corporation as the title suggests, “without really trying.” The “WWW” logo hangs prominently in the campy, colorful set, an homage to ‘60s pop culture.

I don’t think the new meaning of “WWW” was lost on the audience, a funny twist to the old plot. One cannot help but reflect on how business – and the world – has changed since Robert Morse took Broadway by storm in 1961 as Finch. The women in the cast are archetypes of the 1960s, secretaries and not administrative professionals, husband-hunting young women. There’s even a wicked city woman of sorts, the voluptuous Tammy Blanchard as Larroquette’s “other woman,” Hedy LaRue. Blanchard is an Emmy winner for her portrayal of the young Judy Garland in a made-for-television movie.

Rose Hemingway is in fine voice in her first Broadway appearance as Radcliffe’s love interest Rosemary Pilkington.

One has to wonder how 1995 audiences responded to the first revival starring Matthew Broderick. Today How to Succeed seems like a period piece, and the Mad Men stereotypes don’t offend the feminist side of me. Like other great Broadway musicals, the music drives the plot. Both acts move quickly, leaving the audience wanting more, as the old cliché says.

Radcliffe and Larroquette highlight the first act with “Grand Old Ivy,” a tribute to Larroquette’s fictional Ivy League alma mater. Musical highlights of the second act include two numbers that became standards in the past half century, “I Believe in You” and “The Brotherhood of Man.” At the show’s finale, the latter had the engaged audience on its feet and joyously singing along.

© Amy Abbott March 2011

*Addendum: Check the board at the half-price ticket booth daily after 3 p.m. The TKTS booth is located at Broadway and 47th Street. If you are visiting the Statue of Liberty or on the south end of Manhattan during the day, visit the TKTS booth at the corner of Front and John Streets. Check this link for specific ticket purchase hours for evening performances and matinees