CENTERVILLE — CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s production of the musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by Frank Loesser (book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, based on the book of the same name by Shepherd Mead) was as hilarious as it was witty and entertaining. CenterPoint’s director Maurie Tarbox has turned out a truly remarkable balance of talent, artistry, and downright fun in this show. Set in 1960’s New York City, the plot follows bright-eyed and excessively ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch (brilliantly played by Craig Williams) who sets out to make his dreams of becoming a businessman come true. Following the (tongue-in-cheek to the audience) advice of the book, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Finch rises from a window washer to an exec of the World Wide Wicket Company.
This script pivots on the character of J. Pierrepont Finch, so it comes as no surprise that the actor playing the role carries the weight of making or breaking the entire production. Happily for CenterPoint’s MWF cast, Craig Williams takes an already well-written role and adds a robust dose of charm and energy to Finch. Williams has a certain star quality to him—that stage presence that almost has to be seen to be explained in certain talented performers. Whenever he is on stage, he steals the spotlight, which is absolutely what needs to happen in this show focusing so closely on Finch. Standout moments for Williams include, “How to Succeed in Business” and “I Believe in You,” both of which showcase Willaims’ strong vocals, charisma, and comedic timing.
Though Williams’s performance was certainly critical, without great supporting leads and ensemble members, the show wouldn’t hold up. Courtney Jensen as Finch’s love interest Rosemary perfectly complements Williams’ Finch. Jensen’s Rosemary is sweet, collected, and as ambitious—in her own way—as Finch. Jensen’s choice to perform the severely satirical song, “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” in an emotional honest way worked surprisingly well and allowed the humor of the material to not be hindered by a forced comedic push. Jensen wisely just let the humor stand—both endearing her character to the audience and letting the comedy shine through her honesty. Also, the chemistry between Williams’s Finch and Jensen’s Rosemary was almost tangible—particularly in the delightful numbers, “Been a Long Day” and “Rosemary.”
Each and every cast member performed well—from the hilarious Stephen Chucay as the boss’s twerp-of-a-nephew Bud Frump to Christy Stolworthy as the cigarette-girl-turned-secretary vixen Hedy La Rue. The ensemble worked particularly well together and all seemed to be having a blast onstage performing, which made watching the show all that much more fun. Also, music director JD Dumas did a superb job blending the singing voices in sometimes tight harmonies and varying dynamics. The only song that could have used improvement was the “hallelujah” choruses in “Cinderella Darling.” The “hallelujah” portions of the song sounded like they were being sung too brashly—a more nun-like, pure vowel sound in those segments would have enhanced the humor more. Yet, the flaw was minor and a matter of personal opinion.
Artistically, enough good things cannot be said about choreographer Maggy Lawrence’s work in this show. I am not much of a dancer myself, so choreography is not something that always pops out at me. But in this production, the dancing is impossible to ignore. It was simply fabulous, from the zombie-inspired jerks of “Coffee Break,” to the well-executed box-throwing in “The Company Way,” the still manly but also energetic and varied “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” and of course, the show-stopping dancing mania in “Brotherhood of Man.” The overall style of the choreography was simple, but classic and reflected the 1960’s time period. Over and again, the choreography was captivating and enhanced the meaning and expression of each song.
The costumes, designed by Laurie Oswald, were another fun element of the show that reflected in the setting in style and color. The men’s costumes were mostly suits with ties—sharp but uncomplicated. The women’s costumes, however, were a fun variety of style, pattern, and color, focusing on the bright pastel colors so popular in the era—lime green, sky blue, tangerine, and lavender, to name a few. Particularly impressive costuming moments include the authentic-looking old football and cheerleader uniforms in “Grand Old Ivy” and the little pink dress that somehow looks amazing on every female cast member in “Paris Original.”
The set design, by Scott VanDyke and Courtney Christison, was complimentary to the costumes in color—once again reflecting those same bright, pastel hues—and was functional but also pleasing to the eye. The open layout of the stage worked well—with the boss’s office, the secretary desks, and a general lobby/miscellaneous area all being laid out together in a way that flowed but didn’t clutter. The set even included an elevator entrance with working doors—a nice touch adding to the feel that this is a major company in a large building. Set pieces were moved on and off to suggest different areas of the building, such as the mailroom. My only complaint is that during “I Believe In You,” which takes place in the executive washroom, the fake mirror frames were so thick that I felt like I was missing the actors’ performances during most of the song. I thought the look of the frames was a nice effect—suggesting sinks and mirrors—but they certainly got in the way of being able to see the facial expressions during that song. Technically, everything worked as it should—with flawless sound design (by Michael Scott Welling) and always on-cue lighting (designed by Mark Rencher), which added to the overall high quality of the show.
CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a must-see show that may just make you laugh so hard you end up crying. Beyond the humor, the performances are genuine, the dancing is spectacular, and the overall world created by the artistic design is immersive and fun.