Pillbox

Drama department gets down to business

The business world of the 1950s was apparently rife with men who did nothing but spit out a lot of pretty words — at least according to Shepherd Mead in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The book, originally published in 1952, satirized the corporate sector by reminding the reader that his attractive secretary may have been placed with him as a test, as someone may be “interested in her career” and wanted to tempt him.

The satirical humor was brought to life in a 1961 musical adaptation of the same name by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert. Last weekend, How to Succeed... opened in the Philip Chosky Theater to uproarious laughter.

In the play version, Mead’s original ideas were employed by J. Pierrepont Finch (played by senior drama major Skye Scott). Finch begins the show washing windows and reading Mead’s book. The narrator, voiced by Tony McKay (an associate professor in drama), tells him he can build his way up to running a large company.

Through the first act, Finch succeeds in becoming vice president of advertising for World Wide Widgets by following the advice in his book, which, unfortunately, tells him in the second act that only a brilliant idea can save him. Finch now must rely on his own abilities to carry him onward in the company.

While he is building his career, Finch is supported by a secretary at the company — Rosemary (played by senior drama major Lora Lee Gayer) — who took a liking to him when he first bumped into company president J.B. Biggley (played by senior drama major Chase Newell).

Gayer, simply put, stole the show. This high-belting, extremely expressive actress drew eyes and ears to her every time she was on stage. A sharp twang to her voice brought to mind Broadway and television star Kristen Chenoweth, which was only supported by her comedic timing and charming carriage.

The minute details of the casting were on point for each character, from the threatening scratch Newell added in his voice to the perfect permanent scowl worn by senior drama major Tess Soltau in the role of Biggley’s secretary, Miss Jones. Even the short stature of senior drama major Nick Cosgrove embodied the insignificant pest that was his character, Bud Frump, the president’s good-for-nothing nephew.

In some songs — such as “Coffee Break” — the choreographic timing, especially on moments intended to be synchronous, tended to falter; however, overall the dances only added to the adorableness of the show. For “The Company Way,” Scott and senior drama major Ty Michael Robinson (as Twimble, the head of the mailroom) box-stepped on time and with gusto.

Director Daniel Goldstein truly took every advantage to play up the charm. Near the end of the first act, when Finch and Rosemary first kiss, lighting effects suggesting fireworks went up on the back of the stage. Some attempts were slightly over the top, such as the spotlight on Finch when he had a particularly successful moment, accompanied by brief chime from the pit; nevertheless, How to Succeed... never failed to win the hearts of its audience.