Escondido, CA—It’s a pretty timely event, the dual openings of the Broadway hit, “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”. Lawrence Welk Theatre in Escondido recently opened the Frank Loesser (music and lyrics), Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willy Gilbert (book) Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical while the revival is presently being played out on Broadway at the Al Hirschfield Theatre.
The 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama is just that darn good of a show and even though it takes place in the 50’s and sexism is rampant in the boardrooms, steno pools, bosses offices, office lobbies and elevators, it’s all done of course, with a wink and a nod. It’s such wonderful spoof that what we see at the ‘Wide World Wicket Co’ of the past is most likely still goes on in the business world today. And while you won’t be humming most of the musical numbers you will remember “I Believe In You”, “Paris Original”, “The Company Way” and “The Brotherhood of Man” all big production numbers.
If New York isn’t on your bucket list for the next month or so, a trip to Escondido will satisfy your curiosity as to how well we here in the southland make exciting theatre work. And no airfare is needed.
It’s hard not to call a show like this timely right in the middle of an election year and big corporate businesses raking in Pirates Booties, because it is. Everyone has angel and if the love of money isn’t it, then the might of power is. Take the case of J. Pierrepoint Finch or Ponty (Allen Everman), as he likes to be called who is a lowly but ambitious window washer. He goes from mailroom clerk to executive suite to chairman of the board by following the steps in his ‘How To book’ (Book Voiceover…Rich Little impersonating Walter Cronkite). He’s sharp enough to zero in on every opportunity made available to him in the WWW Company. Said company, where fighting and incompetency rule, is ripe for Finch’s pickin’. It’s classic and almost as delicious as eating a box of truffles.
The production at the Welk Theatre under the direction Ray Limon hums. It stars Allen Everman as that inimitable, loveable and shrewd Finch with Scott Dreier as his one chief adversary, the one and only nephew to the boss (Walter Smith is Mr. Biggley) and major cry baby and snitch Bud Frump. It’s a kick and a half watching the two play one up’s on the other.
Add Natalie Storrs as the love interest Rosemary, the amazingly talented Marie Kelly as Miss Jones the bosses secretary, Walter Smith as the boos, Mr. Biggley, and versatile Bethany Slomka as Smitty, the office know it all and Rosemary’s closest friend and watch “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” play out as one of those oldies but goodies that keep on giving.
The story, while not the true ‘rags to riches’ fable does target its mark on an opportunist benefiting from holes in the system while no one else is looking. Finch isn’t that knock down/plough through tractor one might think of when picturing a young aggressive go-getter. He’s just shrewd enough to be in the right place at the right time, dropping the right names to the right people and dodging any and all pitfalls thrown at him like the advances of Biggley’s squeeze, Hedy LaRue (Lindsay Martin) masterminded by his chief nemeses Bud. Finch, to coin a phrase, is the ‘Teflon kid’.
Ponty makes it his business to know what promotions are coming up and who will be the most likely candidate and then goes in for the kill. Luck follows him as well as when smitten, starry eyed, hungry husband looking Rosemary introduces him to all the right people. All the while suspicious and jealous Bud, while trying to slip him up, inadvertently helps further Ponty’s climb up the corporate ladder.
While the entire sixteen-member cast was right on target the day I saw the show, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to those who were the driving forces behind its success. If ever there was an actor so right for a role, Allen Everman coins that phrase. He is picture perfect as Ponty. His attitude, facial expressions and behavior fit the innocent looking but all to knowing look of what he is doing, down to the proverbial tee. And when he dances, look out for the other jungle animals. At one point he reminded me of a gazelle flitting across the plains, only a two legged one.
Now compare the forever-smiling look on Ponty’s face to the harrumphing, arms crossed over the chest and knitted eyebrows look, or every now and again Cheshire cat grin when he thought he had a gotcha moment, of the other schemer Bud played artfully by Scott Dreier, and you’ve got an undeclared war of wits going on and it’s artfully done.
Natalie Storrs is exceptionally appealing, with a lovely voice to go with that appeal as Rosemary. She is the starry-eyed girl wonder willing to move mountains for her love interest, Ponty. Lindsay Martin is the sexpot, Hedy who manages to catch everyone’s eye except Buds. She plays her cards to the hilt including the kewpie doll, dumb blond voice but who has the score card tilted in her favor. Walter Smith has the look and command to be the big boss, but falls into the girl trap very nicely.
Bethany Slomka’s Smitty adds another level of interest as a bridge between the guys and gals, and Marie Kelly’s Miss Smith is sensational when she finally is able to knock it out of the park in the last two numbers, “Brotherhood of Man” and “Company Way”, all done under the direction of musical director Justin Gray and his four musicians sitting above the stge.
Mike Buckley designed the sparse but simple set that has the ability to be moved around to make scene changes simple (most done by a single bell sound) and that allows for the cast to dance their hearts out under Ray Limon’s chorography. Theatre Company in Upland provided the 50’s era costumes and Jeff Weeks supplied the wigs.
Overall Welk Theatre San Diego succeeds in making this 1961 musical, “How To Succeed” look, feel and act brand new. It’s worth a try.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: through Feb. 26th
Organization: Welk Theatre San Diego
Production Type: Musical
Where: 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive. Escondido, CA 92026
Ticket Prices: start @$44.00 add a buffet option for $15.00