How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying
Oshawa Little Theatre
Produced by Janet Gilliland and Michael Schneider, Directed by Michael Schneider, Musical Direction by Sam Moffatt, Choreography by Baiba Senecal
The 1960s has returned to the Oshawa Little Theatre. Although I was probably one of the few who did not watch MAD MEN when it was televised (except for trailers announcing a new season), I do remember the show’s advertisements and commercials resplendent with the fashion, food and songs from this time. Since I was born in 1960, I can still recall historical moments from the latter part of the era whether they were on television, LP vinyl records (how’s that for dating myself), and even some clothing that would have been worn.
According to Michael Schneider’s Director notes, How to Succeed was in the rare category of winning a Pulitzer Prize when it debuted in 1962. What is it about this show that would make any community theatre company want to stage it for a twenty first century audience? More about this later.
The story begins with young window washer J. Pierrepont Finch (Todd Appleton) who, with the help of the book HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITH REALLY TRYING, ambitiously climbs to the top to become chairman of the Board of the World Wide Wicket Company. Throughout this quest, he encounters love in the sweet and naïve Rosemary Pilkington (Mary Soln) while having to dodge the nerdy office bully mama’s boy Bud Frump (Johnny Soln).
A big shout out of thanks is extended to Music Director Sam Moffat and the sound operators for clearly establishing an excellent balance with the music, the orchestra and the actors/singers. I like to sit in the last row of the auditorium when I see any production in order to hear the dialogue and lyrics. The local community spends their hard earned money to be entertained, and all members of the local arts community want to make sure our audiences are happy.
The visual look of OLT’s H 2 $ succeeds on many levels. Baiba Senecal’s creative choreography is spirited, inventive and lively. Ian Handscomb’s set design functions well as performers can move set pieces and staircases with ease and safety. Scenic design from Mr. Handscomb and his team has captured nicely colours and designs that would have been popular at this time.
One would expect nothing less of OLT when it comes to costume and make up design. Cynthia Garland has clearly done her homework to capture the shades and tones of the fashion for both men and women. Donna Lajeunesse’s work in make up highlights beautifully the contours in the faces of each performer for distinctive characteristics. On the large OLT stage, lighting is critical to set and heighten particular moments. In this production, lighting transitions are smooth and effective.
Although the look of the 1960s has been captured successfully, what is missing from the production I saw the first Saturday night is the joy or (as the French call it) the elan of the 1960s. It could be this diverse age range in the cast of twenty-eight performers who are probably tired. They’re coming off the first week of shows where one expects to spend long hours at the theatre in what is affectionately known as hell week. All the leads and supporting players are clearly able-bodied singers and actors who have been well rehearsed to hit their mark when necessary. Nevertheless, much of what I saw was mechanical and rote where the performers were going through the motions of being where they’re supposed to be in each scene and musical number. There appears to be no 60s panache and flair.
The reason why H2$ works for any professional or non professional theatre group is the fact the text itself becomes a nudge-nudge, wink wink of 1960s big business conglomerates of an old boys’ club mentality in major corporations. A challenge for any community theatre group in staging H2$ is to ensure the text is not overshadowed by pandering, mugging or “face acting” to the audience for laughs. Some mugging for laughs begins to overshadow which becomes distracting. Sexist song titles “A Secretary Is Not a Toy” and “Paris Original” are hysterically funny when you listen clearly to the lyrics. I was hoping the audience would have blown the roof off with uproarious laughter during these two numbers; instead, there was the only customary applause.
And yet, in the second act, the song “Brotherhood of Man” was a showstopper because it captured beautifully that 60s sparkle as each performer understood the humorous subtext of the song. From the diligent office employees, to the goof offs, the slackers, the wannabees – there is a brotherhood of an old boys’ club who will look out for each other.
There were some wonderful performances on this night from some of the supporting players who come dangerously close to stealing the show as they had understood and captured the 60s spirit. Chad Richards as the stuffy, big boss J. B. Biggley , was comically wonderful especially in those moments where he was sounding off to one of his employees, knitting to calm his nerves and then became a domesticated pussycat around the office sexpot Hedy LaRue (Jennifer Smart). Steve Gilliland as Bratt, Biggley’s yes man, is brash and bold and full of hot air. Newcomer to OLT Jill McMillan as the sassy office confidante Smitty combines just the right amount of cheekiness as she finishes her Metrecal (I remember commercials for Metrecal!) while being compassionate in helping to solve any personal problems of her office colleagues. Donna Lajeunesse as Miss Jones, J. B. Biggley’s secretary listens carefully and watches as the action unfolds around her. But when she belts out a solo during “Brotherhood of Man”, the song takes right off through the rafters.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying continues at the Oshawa Little Theatre, 62 Russett Avenue, November 24, 25, 26, December 1, 2 and 3 at 8:00 pm. There is a matinee performance on November 27 at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased at the door before each performance. Visit the website for further information or telephone (905) 723-0282.