Daniel Radcliffe Turns Hoofer in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Im not madly in love with the new production of the Frank LoesserAbe Burrows musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Hirschfeld Theatre), but thats OK, because even in musicals, mad love and satire dont really mix. And much of How to Succeeds satire, like much of its pure fun, remains surprisingly fresh.
Rob Ashfords new staging pushes, aggressively and sometimes coarsely, to give this sweetly sardonic 1961 show a 21st-century makeover, blitzing once-intimate numbers with troops of dancers, splashing the multi-level stage with people and projections, heavily underscoring the comic bits with sight-gag costumes (those hats for the Paris Original number must surely have been designed by Danny Kayes Anatole of Paris) and exaggerated gestures (Ashford really kills the final window-washer gag).
These frenetic innovations work only minimal harm, however, for three reasons. First, Ashfords firm grasp of the shows overall sense speeds the story along, as we watch its butter-wouldnt-melt hero connive his shameless way from job applicant to chairman of the board in the insta-flashes of Burrowss tersely funny book. Second, Ashfords choreography, even in excess, has a bouncy zest that keeps the show constantly airborne. Some may feel he tries too hard to differentiate his dances from Bob Fosses fondly remembered originals: Coffee Break now centers on one guy hoarding the machines last cupful; Cinderella Darling (deleted in the 1995 Matthew Broderick revival and gratifyingly restored here) has become a menacing clatter of tap shoes.
But Ashford hits a droll peak of frenzy with the manic football ballet he has shoehorned into Grand Old Ivy, formerly an intimate number for the shows two leads, mention of whom brings up point three: Before Broadway musicals began equating unpleasantness with meaningful drama, their major characters had to be appealing. How to Succeed boasts three likeable leading actors, none an exact fit for the role, but all endearing. Rose Hemingway, as the secretary who sets her cap for the hero, is sweet even when she bangs out her top notes; John Larroquette, as the gullible CEO, may blither his dialogue but twinkles adorably on his takes and punch lines. As for Daniel Radcliffe, the shows reason for existing, he may not be a born musical-show starhe plays front with distinctly British reservebut hes a real stage presence, with real acting skills, an engaging personality, and an agile willingness to go through outrageous acrobatic stunts. Hes hired.
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