Review: 'How to Succeed in Business' is lively, engaging

info@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2012 

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," the rollicking musical comedy now occupying the stage at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island, is fun and very timely, with costumes that looked like they came right off the racks from the set of "Mad Men."

I laughed, hummed along, tapped my toes and marched out of the theater singing (most notably to the rousing "The Brotherhood of Man").

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and the book by Abe Burrow, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, the musical is based on the novel by Shepherd Mead. This production was directed and choreographed by the award-winning D.J. Salisbury, who comes again to the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina with a superb history of successes, most recently "The Full Monty" and "Man of La Mancha."

By now, the "How to Succeed" storyline is well-known and roundly enjoyed, but the Hilton Head show seemed to flow in a new and engaging way -- with a variety of different angles, expressions and carefully portrayed nuances.

Anthony Christian Daniel, with the national tour of Disney's "Mary Poppins" just under his belt, was so believable as the charismatic but ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch, a window-washer with a lofty goal and an insider's view of succeeding in business, well, without really trying.

We meet Finch while he's high in the sky on a tiny window-washer's support, reading the self-help book "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." The narrator's voice -- which is that of well-known radio announcer and Hilton Head personality Monty Jett -- booms from out of sight, instructing Finch on what he needs to do to climb the corporate ladder.

As the one hour and forty-five minute first act continues, we meet each of the leading characters who will, over time, affect Finch's plans.

There's Natalie Newman as the lovely smitten Rosemary, who offers "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm" early on and the well-remembered, "I Believe in You," in the second act.

The plot thickens and takes a more comic tone when we meet Christopher Sloan as Bud Frump, the wonderfully whining, conniving nephew of J.B. Biggley, the president of World Wide Widget.

Frump is such a sleazeball, but surprisingly, he shares many of the characteristics we find in the transforming Finch as he ascends the ladder.

Ann Burnette Mathews also shines as a curvy and edgy Hedy La Rue, who slinks and shimmies and joins with Bud and Mr. Biggley in "Been a Long Day." She lets us know who she is and what she stands for and we get it.

When we meet Drew Taylor as J.B. Biggley, the production seems to broaden. You'll remember Taylor in several roles at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, most recently "The Drowsy Chaperone," "The Producers" and "Man of La Mancha." He fits every big business stereotype to a "T." Perfection. He sings and dances, and he offers one of my all-time favorite stage moments when he and Finch do their comical rendition of "Grand Old Ivy."

It still makes me laugh when I think about it.

The consistently outstanding lead actors were supported by a talented ensemble, along with those who came together to offer music and musical direction and those who designed the sets.

What a success.

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