Monday, May 21, 2012

How to Succeed...

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Al Hirschfeld Theatre, NYC
May 16, 2012

My reason for seeing How to Succeed…was kind of silly. I had written  previously about Charles Nelson Reilly[1], and for some strange kind of sentimental purpose I decided I wanted to see a show that he had done early in his career.

For years I didn’t think I would like to see the show. I didn’t see it with Matthew Broderick in the 90s and I didn’t see the 2011 revival with Daniel Radcliffe (until 2012 when Nick Jonas had replaced him) even though I thought I would enjoy seeing Radcliffe perform live, but again, the musical didn’t seem to call out to me.

I had tried to watch the 1967 film version a couple of times and it never held my interest. I never watched more than 15 minutes or so of it before giving up on it (not every stage production translates well to the screen, maybe; or maybe I just didn’t give it a fair shot).

And now (feeling very smug and superior), I was finally going to make myself see it (for Charles!), but with sadness that it had to be with one of the Jonas Brothers (what am I? a Disney Channel watching 5th grade girl?!), still, the show wouldn’t run forever and if I was going to see it I should just be done with it. But in arrogant protest, I bought a cheap seat!

Well, a Wednesday night toward the end of run doesn’t always pack a house, so the ushers told those of us in the cheap seats to move on down…anywhere there was an empty seat. I got a GREAT seat (only about 4 rows behind my favorite seat in the house which is first row, lower Mezzanine); well, at least I got a great seat and didn’t have to pay extra for it. So, let the show be musical Ambien (Zolpidem), I had already received my bit of good luck and was paying tribute to CNR. The evening would be enjoyable no matter what.

As often happens when expectations are low, mine were exceeded. The colors and angular designs of the 1960s were bright and brilliant. The sets and costumes were beautiful (I usually prefer simple, almost bare stages, but sometimes the designers really can enhance the experience and that is exactly what they did for How to Succeed…).

Of course Jonas makes his entrance to not only the music from the orchestra pit but to the screaming of teenage girls throughout the audience (there were about 4 rows of them who had come down from Canada just to see the show, or rather, to see him in the show). I can’t prove it, but I am certain my eyes rolled to express disdain.

But here’s the thing – I don’t believe I have actually ever listened to the Jonas Brothers or to Nick Jonas sing. They are famous as singers, so it should not have surprised me that Nick’s voice is beautiful! OK. Great set, fabulous costumes, and Nick has the voice of an angel. All this and a free upgrade on the seat? It’s a good evening no matter what else happens.

Jonas was the not strongest actor in the cast. In fact, his lines often fell flat, and even his beautiful voice lacked the “booming” quality that the seasoned Broadway pros had (even though as a child he had appeared in musical theatre and has been a concert singer and recording artist for years). But he exuded a charm that was not wasted even on me and he did have a few “stock” facial expressions he would use to good effect throughout the performance. He was adorable, and good enough, with a beautiful if not always well projected voice and he was clearly a draw for young girls. By the end, I was a Nick Jonas fan (more or less).

Beau Bridges was in the cast (having replaced John Laroquette who was doing another play which I also saw), but I’m not sure why. His singing was mediocre. His acting lacked comedic polish. His dancing was clunky (though they seemed to try to feature his stiffness as if that is just how his character would move). Other than bringing name recognition, Bridges did not add much to the overall quality of the production.

The rest of the cast seemed to be seasoned theatre people, some of whom had been in the production since last year. They were wonderful: great singing, great dancing, and believable portrayals with good comic timing. And the story is kind of in the tradition of “let’s tell a cute story with lots of funny lines and weave in some big song and dance numbers” musical theatre, complete with happy ending and heterosexual romance. Still, the dance numbers are amazing and the songs are hummable, especially the eleven o’clock number, “Brotherhood of Man.”

So, it may not have been great theatre, but it was great choreography and dancing, and it was good singing, and it was good sets and lights and costumes. You know what? I guess it was pretty good theatre after all! And, most importantly, I got to share an imaginary moment with Charles Nelson Reilly. Rest in peace, CNR.

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