"Written just after the mythical golden-age of the Broadway musical, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the tale of the underdog who makes good"Benedict Flett

There is a curiosity currently on show at the ADC, which could easily be retitled How To Induce Cognitive Dissonance Without Really Trying. It is the end-of-term musical, packed with colour, razzmatazz and energy, where the hard work shines through with singing, dancing, comedy, romance and a set that moves around on strings. What more could we ask for? Well, a piece of theatre that is worth the efforts of the cast and the audience would be a good starting point.

Written just after the mythical golden-age of the Broadway musical, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the tale of the underdog who makes good. And just like every retelling of the Cinderella story, there is no doubt from the start that we will have a happy ending, albeit one preceded by a few ups and downs. J. Pierrepont Finch is our hero – hapless and inept, but well-meaning. Toby Waterworth plays the part with oodles of excitable energy and charm. He captures the essence of the lovable geek to perfection and knows how to draw the biggest reaction from the audience with the physicality of his comedy. He is flanked by Rachel-Marie Weiss as Rosemary, the love interest and comic foil. Weiss is a brilliant example of the triple threat, with singing, dancing and acting skills that are flawless, combined with an immense sense of fun and mischief.

"The show presents itself as a satire of American corporate culture, and the original production won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama"Benedict Flett

The comedy villains are provided by Joe Pieri and Stanley Thomas in the guise of Frump and Biggley, the evil faces of nepotism and capitalism. The rest of the cast provide a supporting chorus of all-American boys and girls, who work hard and drink lots of coffee. Musical direction is by Stephen Gage, who has assembled a jazzy and powerful band. The musical score is handled with energetic style, both by the musicians and singers. Ranging from big production numbers to wistful ballads and light comedy numbers, it has the feel of a very generic Broadway musical without much to distinguish it from others of its era.

“Scenes shift and slide as if by magic, bringing a comic-book effect to the design”

The set is complex and playful, consisting of endless moving parts, and strings and pulleys. Scenes shift and slide as if by magic, bringing a comic-book effect to the design. Working out what is moving where, which bit of string is doing the moving, and where it will move next is often more exciting than keeping track of the flaccid plot line. The show presents itself as a satire of American corporate culture, and the original production won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. But this is no Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, and the writing has definitely not stood the test of time. Even with the best efforts of a dynamic cast, the script is horribly dated, and the jokes are decades beyond their relevance. It may have got laughs and been reasonably popular in its day, but so was The Black and White Minstrel Show. Times change, and what was interesting and novel to a 1960s New York matinée audience isn’t perhaps the most exciting choice for a 21st-century production in the UK’s oldest student theatre.

While I watched this great cast singing and dancing their hearts out, I couldn’t help thinking of Berkoff’s description of Miss Saigon as a lump of stodgy porridge clogging up an otherwise useful stage. With all the energy in the world they were never going to succeed in making me care very much. Where musical theatre now encompasses the emotional range and innovative writing in shows such as London Road, Hamilton and Fun Home, digging out a piece of mediocre writing like this seemed a shame. In terms of stars, then, the cast, the musicians and those pulling the strings to make the set work get a well-deserved four stars. But for those pulling the strings at the ADC in planning what to spend the time and effort on for a two-week run, then it is definitely an overly-generous two stars

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