Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Success" with a bullet!

A great example of the vivid color combos in How to Succeed (Tracy Martin)
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
The 5th Avenue Theatre
Through February 21, 2016

This 5th Avenue production is a Skittles (or older candy: Chiclets) colored musical that tastes as sweet, tart, and happy as it looks! How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a popular musical for high schools and summer camps because it’s so G-rated. Here, the retro feel is on full display, and every moment of fun is amped to a 10!

The story is of a young man reading a book on succeeding in business (fun fact: former Seattle mayor – and musical theater lover – Norm Rice is the narrator of the book sections), and he follows the book to the letter. The book is amazingly prescient and covers every possible situation on your rise to the top. But also, Pierrepont Finch (who adds a J. to the beginning to sound posh-er) is a whiz at thinking on his feet.

You have to ignore the stereotyping of all the women – ones who scheme to marry upwardly mobile men, secretaries who don’t get to be “in” on the important business, women who get installed in jobs because they’re sleeping with the boss. But the musical is a product of its time. Bill Berry’s direction, though, helps this enormously because all the women are winking at the audience and enjoying themselves in the old stereotypes.

The cast feels perfectly suited to each individual role. Eric Ankrim as Finch has the perfect amount of boy-next-door impishness to overcome the hubris the role demands. Sarah Rose Davis is darling as Rosemary, who sings a song about how she longs to wait at home with an uneaten dinner as her love rises in business rankings. Allen Fitzpatrick is note-perfect as the pompous but hen-pecked boss, J.B. Biggley.

Cristin Hubbard as top secretary, Miss Jones, gets a fabulous over-sing in Brotherhood of Man, where she’s the only female. Adam Standley as Bud Frump shows off moves that smack of Danny Kaye and Dick Van Dyke, with the movable hips of both. Sarah Rudinoff as Smitty, Jeff Steitzer as Bert Bratt, Allen Galli in a double role as Mr. Twimble/Wally Womper, and Dane Stokinger as Mr. Gatch are all spot-on.

Not surprisingly, Jessica Skerritt as Hedy La Rue pretty much steals every scene she’s in. Her role as the exotic dancer turned reluctant secretary is a small one, but she uses every comedy trick in her bag to pull off a surprise sneak attack on funny.

Bill Berry makes sure the timing is fast and exacting. A huge shout-out to choreography by Bob Richard which takes the entire production up a huge notch! See if you agree that Michael Jackson's Thriller choreo is in there, along with other recognizable moments!

The scenic design by Tom Sturge and David Sumner works great, changing locations with ease. The costume design by Rose Pederson could not be improved upon, I don’t think, especially in key scenes like the one where all the women buy a “special” dress. Tech work is completed by lighting designer Robert Aguilar and sound designer Justin Stasiw.

This is the best production you are likely to see of this show, classic though it is. The 5th has hit a home run.

For more information, go to or call (206) 625-1900.

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