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How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – Al Hirschefel Theatre, Broadway: New York

Music & Lyrics: Frank Loesser

Book: Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert

Director & Choreographer: Rob Ashford

Reviewer: Kate Sawyer

The moment Daniel Radcliffe emerges from the orchestra-pit, hoisted into view in his window-cleaner’s harness clutching his dog-eared copy of “How to succeed in business without really trying” the audience are spell-bound.

With strong echoes of Mad Men this tongue-in-cheek production has chosen a timely moment to revive this Tony and Pulitzer winning musical. The show follows Radcliffe, as J.Pierrepont Finch, through the rapid advancement of his career as he follows the instruction of the self-help book that the show bears the name of. The musical numbers (though none are stand-alone musical theatre-hits one could sing in the shower) are all toe-tapping jazzy affairs which are actually very humorous. The excellent choreography of Rob Ashford (who also directs) holds as many gags as the lyrics. This is particularly true in “Coffee Break” when the workers of the company jerk and sweat their way through coffee deprivation as Bud (the villain of the piece, hilariously played by Christopher J.Hanke) steals the last cup from beneath their desperate noses. The majority of the numbers follow this lead with moments of pure brilliance such as “A Secretary Is Not a Toy” which introduces the instrumental character of Hedy La Rue, an excellent comic turn by Tammy Blanchard with more than a nod to Christina Hendricks and a teetering physique that Jack Lemmon would’ve referred to as “Jello on legs”. There are a few minor dips, sadly in the all-female numbers, which while excellently performed, all harp on about bagging a man. Of course this was a pre-occupation of women in the 1950’s but even when treated satirically it can’t mask the outmoded sentiment.

It is Radcliffe that really steals the show with the spectre of his previous role as a rather well-known teenage wizard barely rearing its head. As the audience we are behind him all the way willing him to succeed. Every time he progresses to the next rung of the ladder he is caught in the spotlight and looks to the audience who all cheer with glee. It is with great pleasure you realise that this young star can act, sing, and dance. He more than holds his own in the 30-strong ensemble of sharply suited, bespectacled men of the office. It is the final number when Radcliffe really comes into his own; he performs “The Brotherhood of Man” with such acrobatic verve it is difficult not to whoop with joy!

Opens 28th March 2011 

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