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REVIEW: Howto production shows reasons for theatre companys success

by David Meyer

DRAYTON - The latest production of Drayton Entertainment is difficult to connect with on a number of levels - yet the audience leapt to its feet after the three hour show for a spontaneous standing ovation for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

The production, written by Frank Loesser with book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, is based on Shepherd Mead’s 1952 book of the same name. That perhaps, helps explain why the musical comedy is so outdated. It features a window washer of New York skyscrapers who wants to become a business tycoon - and does so by reading a how-to book.

None of the situations are believable today. Imagine a secretary in love with her boss who believes life would be great marrying a business tycoon and keeping his dinner warm at home while he works late in the corporate jungle. Today, women are running companies.

Another scene between the two would-be lovers, when the guy suddenly realizes he is in love with the gal (after kissing another woman) was so hokey it was hilarious.

No one we noticed was humming or singing any of the songs from the show, either, as we left the theatre. The tunes were stirring, but none particularly memorable. Perhaps they were, when the show opened on Broadway in 1961.

Despite all that, the show still succeeds admirably because Drayton does its productions so very well - sometimes despite the material.

J. Pierrepont Finch, played by Ari Butler, is the erstwhile window washer, and Jayme Armstrong is his love interest, Rosemary Pilkington. “Ponty” keeps reading his how-to books (which are read to the audience by the estimable Neil Aitchison) and Ponty uses Rosemary’s help to overcome corporate backstabbing in his steady rise to corporate power.

The show has the obligatory blustery boss, his wimpy but scheming nephew, a host of middle managers all looking for power, a gaggle of secretaries, plus a bombshell beauty who is the boss’s distraction.

The success of the show begins with a marvelous set by Douglas Paraschuk. It opens with a skyscraper, and then morphs into an atrium at the Worldwide Wicket company, changes easily into a mail room, several offices and even the secretaries’ and the executives’ washrooms, whence much skulduggery and laughter are wrought.

The scene changes were as much entertainment as they were functional, and that is not something easily accomplished. It was done very smoothly at the large stage in Drayton, though.

There was terrific  lighting by Kevin Fraser. Every time Ponty gets a terrific idea or sees his way out of a corporate scrape, his face literally lights up. One can almost see the light bulb coming on over his head. It got to the point the audience began laughing every time it happened.

The show also succeeds because, while the music was not particularly memorable, the performances of the songs were uniformly excellent. The song and dance numbers were wonderfully choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld, aided and abetted by dance captain and actor Stephen Cota. It takes a great deal of skill to have everyone in sync, and the large company did it with ease and with style.

It is difficult to pick out a particular actor or actress because every role was excellently filled.

In one scene, every secretary arrives at a gala party, each wearing a brand new dress - from Paris. And all of them are wearing exactly the same dress. One could see women in the audience nodding, but what made the scene truly memorable was how wonderfully, hideously ugly those dresses were.

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying runs until Sept. 3. The opening night was packed and tickets are selling quickly. Call 519-638-5555 or 1-855-855-372-9866 of visit www.draytonfestivaltheatre.com.

 

August 26, 2011

 
 

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