There’s a song in Act Two when the protagonist, J. Pierrepoint Finch (Marc Pickering), sings out to the audience, motivating himself by proclaiming, ‘I Believe In You’. Sadly, it was hard to believe in him or this production of the nine-time Tony Award winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, How to Succeed tells of the rise of young businessman J. Pierrepoint Finch and his rise from window washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company with the assistance of his book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
As a huge lover of Loesser’s songs going into this, it’s hard to gain some imagination with such vibrant music when you have a cast of only 10 performing showstoppers like ‘Brotherhood of Man’ or ‘I Believe in You’. The 1859-built traditional music hall and its echoey acoustic simply doesn’t suit the big band jazz of Loesser’s score, which lacks volume from the orchestra sat at the top of the tall stage far away from the audience. Furthermore, the lack of performers not only fails to give the sense of a bustling worldwide business company, but also makes such key chorus numbers as the ones mentioned previously, lose so much more impact than what could potentially be achieved. What also distracts the performances are the incredibly clunky scenes transitions and set pieces which frequently bump into actors, thus slowing down the pace of the nearly 3 hour production.
Some casting decisions also seem quite clunky, and almost mismatched. My personal take on Finch is a bright-eyed, optimistic, keen worker wanting the audience to support him on his journey. Yet Pickering’s slimy interpretation of Finch makes him appear too untrustworthy for him to rise to the top, thus distancing himself from the audience to win him on. His slurring around with the melodies occasionally, lack of vocal dynamic and unsure facial expressions makes his presence awkward, which can definitely have its humourous moments at times, but overall not leading man material. Daniel Graham as Bud Frump, however, whilst not perfect and not delving into the sneakiness of his characterisation, seems much more lively and ambitious with a stronger higher vocal, thus possibly making him a more suitable person for the role of Finch.
Saying that, certain female performances stood out to provide some dynamism to Benji Sperring’s production. Geri Allen as Smitty did a tremendous job in her vocal projection in the acoustics and vivid movement to give a kick up to both audience and cast members in their energy levels. The leading lady, Rosemary Pilkington (Hannah Grover), is more restrained in her presence, yet her still facial expressions echoes the days of mid-20th century Hollywood musical films, which makes her performance seem cinematic in some way. Maisey Bawden as Miss Jones also shows off some very impressive vocal range in ‘Brotherhood of Man’ at the climax.
How to Succeed will always provide me joy with Loesser’s timeless music and the comedic storyline. However, Sperring’s production failed to seize its moment in bringing the show to life in an inappropriate space, acoustic, cast size and casting decisions. I hope to see a larger-scale production of How to Succeed, that can fulfil its potential, in London in the future.
Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Darren Bell
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until 22 April 2017