Once again, I’ve been too busy watching theatre and helping to make theatre to write about theatre. But I want to tell you about this one (which I’m working on) in time for you to go see it.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a musical by Frank Loesser first produced in 1961, and based on the satirical book of business advice written by Shepherd Mead a decade earlier. Whether or not you’ve seen the musical or movie or read the book, you’ve probably seen lots of copycat titles, because it’s a memorable turn of phrase.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the latest production from local independent theatre group Foote in the Door Productions. The company name is a tribute to Foote Theatre School at the Citadel, where company principals Ruth Wong-Miller and Russ Farmer met in a musical-theatre class. The company began producing musicals at Fringe 2014. How to Succeed is their second mainstage production, after She Loves Me, in November 2015.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is set in the head office of a big company in the 1960s. The setting reminds me of Mad Men and of Bewitched, and also of some places I’ve worked in the past. The protagonist, J Pierrepont Finch (Frank Keller, previously seen in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) has an unexpectedly-endearing mix of enthusiasm, kindness, and self-involved ambition. From his initial hiring as a junior in the mailroom, he plays everyone he encounters to bounce upwards and upwards and … to bounce.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how this production (directed by Adam Kuss) illustrates and comments on the status of women in early-1960s office life. “I’m no Cinderella! I have eighty-five dollars in the bank, AND a savings bond!” declares determined and daydreamy Rosemary Pilkington (Ruth Wong-Miller) to her office-pal Smitty (Caitlin Tazzer) who wants a fairy-tale ending for Rosemary and J Pierrepont. In one scene, men waiting for an elevator discuss projects and promotions, while the women discuss needing to reject sexual advances in the office – and that was written around 1961 (by three men, Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert). Executive secretary Miss Jones (Carolyn Waye, who has a joy-filled solo late in the show) wields some real power, and the naive-sexy character Hedy Larue (Kathleen Cera, also the show’s costume designer) also exhibits self-determination and solidarity with other women.
Company president J.B. Biggley is played by Russ Farmer (recently seen in Chess and in She Loves Me). Farmer, a management consultant, gives a disturbingly-convincing portrayal of an executive who is not as competent as he thinks he is, stuck with a lazy sassy nephew Bud (Rory Turner).
The organization chart of this company is filled in by a strong ensemble (Trish van Doornum, Trevor J, Melanie Lafleur, Gerald Mason, Natasha Mason, Mike McDevitt, Levy Poppins, Emily Smith, Morgan Smith), creating recognizable and entertaining characters and providing the audience with delightful singing and dancing and snappy dialogue. Choreography was done by Adam Kuss, and live music is provided by an ensemble of 8 led by music director Daniel Belland on piano.
Ruth Wong-Miller took time in a busy tech week to answer a few questions about the show and company, starting with how they find the musicals they produce: “I am a huge musical theatre nerd. I’ve been obsessed with shows since I was a young girl, when I listened to Les Miz and Phantom on cassette (yes I’m that old). My sister and I used to watch all of the old classic movie musicals and see every show that came to town – it’s hard to stump me on musical theatre trivia!” On people who have led and supported Foote in the Door so far:”We have had so many wonderful supporters including Adam Kuss who has been involved in our fringe show each year as a director (2014) and choreographer (2015 and 2016). I’d also like to name Barbara Mah as well; she directed our first mainstage She Loves Me last fall and she’s been a great resource for our company. On this show we have an amazing group, from the cast, production team, and orchestra. The talent level is super impressive, the commitment is incredible and it feels like such a warm family.”
And what’s next for Foote in the Door? “Carousel (May 2017) is a complete 180 from How to Succeed. It is a dramatic musical with some serious subject matter backed up with some seriously lush and classic music by the legends: Rodgers and Hammerstein! Performers will experience the opportunity to work with an amazing production team including Mary-Ellen Perley as Director, Stuart Sladden as Music Director and Sterling winner Ainsley Hillyard doing choreography. Audiences will enjoy it just as much as How to Succeed as they will travel with the characters on their journeys of romance and self discovery-and there are beautiful songs such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone!”
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying opens tonight in the main auditorium at Faculté St-Jean, 8406 91 Street (rue Marie-Anne Gaboury). Tickets for future shows are available through tix on the square, but not for same-day/weekend shows. Cash tickets will be available at the door for tonight’s show, $25 adult, $21 student/senior. Show time is 7:30. On Sunday Nov 13th there’s a matinee at 2 pm, and the run continues Wednesday Nov 16th through Saturday Nov 19th. There will be snacks and drinks for sale, including the obligatory red licorice. In tribute to one of the songs in the show, there may also be Coffee Crisp. If you’re coming tonight (Remembrance Day) the campus might look closed, but we will definitely be there!