Photo: Tim Matheson
HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING
Wow. Whoever chose the shows for TUTS this season should be sent to feminist re-education camp.
Legally Blonde: The Musical at least parlays its bubbleheaded blonde heroine into an unlikely Harvard Law School valedictorian, but the show’s engine is its screaming, giggly, pink-underwear-clad sorority girls-just-wanna-have-fun stereotypes. Which is not to say that Legally Blonde isn’t entertaining. It’s a gas, using its 21st century sexist sensibility to very cute ironic effect.
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying dates from the early 1960s, an era of unconscious and largely unchallenged misogyny. It also features a blonde bimbo, but she doesn’t get her law degree—she gets her (rich) man. And she stands in for all the women in this show, secretaries all, whose ambition in life is marrying up: if not the boss, then at least a junior exec.
This show, too, trades in irony. But there’s nothing much funny about its portrayal of women. Nowhere does it suggest an alternative notion of how to succeed for women other than through marrying a successful man. Which is not to say it isn’t entertaining. A handful of terrific performances make it eminently watchable between cringes.
Finch is a window washer who reads a book on How to Succeed in Business, wise saws from which come our way through a nice baritone voiceover. He will use its rules to work his way up through the World Wide Widget company to become chairman of the board. Andrew Cowden offers a terrifically slick, sly performance of faux innocence as Finch, though the character is hard to like.
Joel Wirkkunen plays the company president, Mr. Biggley, with fine comic bluster, and his nephew, Bud Frump, provides a very funny portrait of corporate nepotism.
The lead women are equally effective. Georgia Swinton as Rosemary, the secretary who swoons over Finch, has great musical theatre presence—though, alas, no great songs to sing. And Cailin Stadnyk is perfect as Hedy Larue, the hip-swinging, va-va-va-voomish blonde bombshell with an IQ in negative numbers. Stadnyk, who has a terrific voice, hardly sings at all. Only Jennifer Suratos, as Biggley’s secretary Miss Jones, really gets to show off her voice in a couple of searing gospel numbers, and only at the end.
Christopher King’s orchestra gives Frank Loesser’s undistinguished music a full, clear sound. Director Sarah Rodgers stages the show for maximum comic effect on Drew Facey’s busy mobile set, but choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt doesn’t get to do much. Unusual for TUTS, How to Succeed has few big dance numbers.
I did enjoy myself quite a bit, appreciating the fine performances, the vitality of the young cast, and the commitment of its women to some very problematic roles. This show is also a useful history lesson, reminding us of what a long way we’ve come, baby, in half a century.