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How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying

The Ottawa Citizen - Theatre Review

Orpheus succeeds with musical gem

by Bruce Deachman [Sunday, June 2, 2002]

Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen / "Kris Lizuck was slick and eager as Finch, and Rebecca Stevenson sweet and starry as Rosemary. The play won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and it still has legs. The humour is abundant and effective, and Frank Loesser's musical numbers are clever and fun."

If musical theatre is your trade, then how to succeed in business should be pretty simple; a bright script, strong acting, and a few memborable and well-choreographed songs should reward you with weighty trips from the box office to the bank.

The Orpheus Musical Theatre Society put those three elements together Friday night, opening its final production of the season, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a light comedic love story set in the New York City of 40 years ago.

The play's title is something of a misnomer, for the rapid ascent of J. Pierrepont Finch (Kris Lizuck) at the World Wide Wicket Company - from window-washer to the mailroom, to vice-president of advertising, to chairman of the board - involves a great deal of ambitious manipulation on his part, a well-crafted chess game in which his co-workers and bosses are all pawns. A bright-eyed, eager little beaver, he's bought the book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and is following its advice to the letter.

His competition comes in the form of Bud Frump (Andy Williams), the boss's nephew and a "no-good, back-biting fink." Frump is a useless lump of mama's boy who turns nepotism into a high, if unrefined, art form, and although his corporate ladder-climbing is much more of a bumbling effort than Finch's, he is nonetheless a dangerous foe.

In Finch's corner is Rosemary (Rebecca Stevenson), a steno gal with hearts in her eyes. in love with Finch, and dreaming of their mansion together in New Rochelle from the get-go, she, like Finch, will stop at nothing to get to the top of her chosen ladder.

Along the way, a cast of wonderfully idiosyncratic characters: J.B. Biggley (Jim Robertson), the boss who knits in secret; Miss Jones (Sharron McGuirl), Biggley's dour secretary; Twimble (Moe Romanow), the quintessential company man, promoted out of the mailroom after a 25-year tenure there marked by undistinguished "bold caution."

And there's the lovely Hedy LaRue (Diana-Lynn Dalton), a squeaky-voiced, Bronx-accented, déclassé, gum-chewing, buxom former cigarette girl, whose position at the WWWC is courtesy of Biggley's self-interested largesse, if you know what I mean.

Friday night's performance wasn't seamless, especially when it came to the technical logistics of mounting such an ambitious production. Orpheus's miking of the actors is rarely pulled off without a few hitches, and the set changes (excellent design by Andrea Vescei, by the way) occasionally stumbled. As well, McGuirl's solo in Brotherhood of Man failed to project over the accompanying orchestra, while the whole show, clocking in at three hours and then some, could have used some judicious editing. But those, and even the fact that Finch seems somewhat too self-absorbed for such a sweet thing like Rosemary to fall for, were all fairly minor distractions to director Richard Elichuk's well-acted, and generally well-paced effort.

Based on Shepherd Mead's 1952 satiric book of the same name, the play won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and it still has legs. The humour is abundant and effective, while Frank Loesser's musical numbers are clever and fun, without seeming like intrustions - too often the case in musicals. Coffee Break, performed early on by the office staff after the coffee trolley arrives empty, sets both the carefree tone and high bar for the evening. Other musical highlights include Stevenson's rendition of the old-fashioned Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm, Romanow's don't-rock-the-boat anthem, The Company Way, and the self-explanatory A Secretary Is Not a Toy, performed by the office staff. Dalton, in keeping with her bimboesque character, turns in a wonderfully horrible performance in Heart of Gold.

The acting, too, was consistently strong Friday night. Lizuck was slick and eager as Finch, Stevenson sweet and starry as Rosemary. The audience's delight, though, often came at their expense, as both frequenty found themselves in the shadows of some very strong support, particularly Williams's bobble-headed fecklessness as Frump, and Dalton's oversexed LaRue.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying runs until June 8 at Centrepointe Theatre, 101 Centrepointe Drive. Shows start at 8 p.m., except for today's, which is a 2 p.m. matinee. Tickets are $18-$22 with discounts available for students and seniors, and are available at the box office. For more information, call 727-6650.