Monthly Archives: March 2011

Daniel Radcliffe, Broadway Song-and-Dance Man? How To Succeed

DanielRadcliffeHowToSucceed Daniel Radcliffe, Broadway Song and Dance Man? How To Succeed ReviewAfter Daniel Radcliffe’s spirited and witty dance moves in “Brotherhood of Man,” the last, rousing musical number before the finale in “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” a Jay Leno joke came to mind: When a plane crashes, investigators always seem to be able to recover intact the little black box that contains the pilots’ radio communications. Why, Leno asked, can’t they make the whole plane out of that material?

I am not suggesting that the current revival at the Al Hirschfield Theater of the 1961 Frank Loesser musical is a plane crash. It is not riveting enough for that.

Fans of Daniel Radcliffe will surely be delighted to see him back on Broadway, even though he is not naked this time. But casting the 21-year-old Harry Potter star in a musical comedy, even though he can’t sing all that well and isn’t a natural comedian, seems almost as much a strictly market-driven move as reviving a 1960s show about corporate culture in an attempt to cash in on the mania for Mad Men.
The revival of “Promises, Promises” last year by the same director/choreographer, Rob Ashford, also seemed timed to take advantage of the interest in the cable television show about a 1960’s advertising agency. It too suffered by comparison with that astute TV series. But there are a couple of differences. “Mad Man,” which began in 2007 (before the crash) and is currently on hiatus, with its fifth season reportedly delayed by haggling over money, has lost some of its sizzle (at least in this non-Nielsen household). And “Promises, Promises” had both Sean Hayes and Katie Finneran.

“How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is the story of the rise through the corporate ranks of one J. Pierrepont Finch from window washer to chairman of the board, with the help of a how-to book. That book, sharing the title with the musical, was for real, a bestseller that satirized corporate life, written over eight weeks in 1951 by Shepherd Mead, a former advertising agency executive who had worked himself up from the mailroom.

190414 198753830159363 124499200918160 571939 4406285 n 300x200 Daniel Radcliffe, Broadway Song and Dance Man? How To Succeed ReviewThe corporation in the musical is called World Wide Wickett Company. Placed prominently on the set (which like the recent revivals of “Bye, Bye Birdie” and “Promises, Promises” is made up of 60′s-style, candy-colored, multi-tiered modules), scenic designer Derek McLane has created a logo: the letters WWW. Surely meant as a clever stab at relevance, the obvious reference to the World Wide Web only underscored for me how out of date this musical. Yes, “How to Succeed” is a spoof, but a mild one created in flush times. Are we supposed to feel nostalgic for the days half a century ago when huge corporations and their executives were cheerfully conniving, cutthroat, incompetent and corrupt rather than malevolently so? We are now living in an era where large numbers of people are suffering as a direct consequence of actions by the kind of office politician that we are expected to root for (if only in a joking way) in “How to Succeed.”

Aficionados could well respond: Oh come on, it’s just an entertainment, and it has a great score. There is no denying that How to Succeed has some terrific songs, both unavoidably hummable and sharply amusing:

“Rosemary.” Frank Loesser’s answer to Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” in West Side Story.

“I Believe In You,” a tuneful love song that Finch sings to himself in the mirror

“Brotherhood of Man,” a soulful ode to fellowship by the soulless corporate capitalists, with such heartwarming lyrics as:
One man may seem incompetent, another not make sense, while others look like quite a waste of company expense./
They need a brother’s leadership, so please don’t do them in; remember mediocrity is not a mortal sin. /They’re in the brotherhood of man

I long have maintained that you can get away with almost anything if you do it well enough, and there are things that this production does well. Chief among them is director Rob Ashford’s dazzling choreography, the highlight of which is the flips, somersaults, mock pas-de-deux and generally thrilling synchronized athletic dancing in “Brotherhood of Man.”

Even though many of the songs of the musical and the dancing in this production distract from the anachronism of its book, it is difficult to ignore the errors of this revival’s central casting. The original Broadway run of “How to Succeed” starred Robert Morse, who repeated his role in the subsequent film adaptation (and who now plays ad agency senior partner Bertram Cooper on “Mad Men.”) Its 1995 revival starred Matthew Broderick. Both of them were natural-born hams who shamelessly milked each moment, their characters animated by a comic desperation beneath their smooth conman surface. Both won Tony Awards for best actor in a musical.

Radcliffe, who appeared in his first Harry Potter movie at age 12 and has won over millions of fans around the world, is without question talented and charming. Rather than a ham, he is more of a good sport, the kind willing to be surrounded by hams; he seems someone who appreciates a good joke even if it is at his own expense, an ideal guest host of Saturday Night Live, which Radcliffe has been. It is hard to detect the scrambling hustler underneath the placid exterior. There is nothing wrong with his performance, just like there is nothing “wrong” with his voice. They are just not very strong.

The same can be said for John Larroquette, a solid comic actor best-known for his role in the TV series “Night Court,” making his Broadway debut as the boss J.B. Biggley. He seems made for the stage, even if his voice is not particularly made for musicals.

5abfbcd34dc4be178b738bb13f93 300x223 Daniel Radcliffe, Broadway Song and Dance Man? How To Succeed ReviewIt is obvious the leads worked hard to fit into this musical-comedy thing – they are really trying to succeed — and just as obvious they were chosen for their marquee value. (CNN anchor Anderson Cooper — or more precisely a recording of his voice — plays the narrator, reciting passages from the book Finch is reading.) The cast of 30 features troupers that are not on the marquee of the Al Hirschfeld, but are the real heart of a show like this. A stand-out among the supporting players is Tammy Blanchard as sexpot Hedy LaRue, but I am talking about the ensemble, which works best when no individuals stand out. If their singing and dancing seem effortless, it is because of their years of effort in many musicals. Kudos as well to the producers for going against the trend and giving the audience 14 musicians playing instruments in the orchestra – half of what an orchestra used to mean in the heyday of How to Succeed but nearly twice the increasingly common so-called chamber musical productions.

My hope is that Rob Ashford will hire these musicians, singers and dancers for his next musical as well, and that his next musical will not be “How Now, Dow Jones.”

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How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
At the Al Hirschfeld Theater
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, based on the book by Shepherd Mead.
Directed by Rob Ashford
Music direction and arrangements by David Chase
Scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Catherine Zuber, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Jon Weston, hair design by Tom Watson, orchestrations by Doug Besterman, music coordinator Howard Jones.
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, John Larroquette, Tammy Blanchard, Christopher Hanke, Rob Bartlett, Mary Faber, Ellen Harvey, Michael Park, Rose Hemingway, Cameron Adams, Cleve Asbury, Tanya Birl, Anderson Cooper, Kevin Covert, Paige Faure, David Hull, Justin Keyes, Marty Lawson, Erica Mansfield, Barrett Martin, Nick Mayo, Sarah O’Gleby, Stephanie Rothenberg, Megan Sikora, Michaeljon Slinger, Joey Sorge, Matt Wall, Ryan Watkinson, Charlie Williams and Samantha Zack.
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including 15 minute intermission
Ticket prices: $52 to $132. Premium as high as $302. General rush $30.

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