Dated, but entertaining

Review

June 09, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by 2nd Star somehow manages to succeed, despite the dearth of memorable tunes in Frank Loesser's surprisingly pedestrian score, the overly long depiction of early 1960s corporate greed, and the acceptance of the era's all-too-prevalent sexual harassment.

Still, when the show opened in 1961, writer Abe Burrows was probably ahead of his time in depicting the contemporary scene in which he placed his flawed characters, who now seem relatively innocent.

However, the inherent flaws in the show should be overlooked, considering how much the current 2nd Star production at Bowie Playhouse offers in sheer entertainment. For instance, music director Don Smith leads a half-hour of live big-band music beginning 45 minutes before each show, a treat guaranteed to get audience toes tapping. Then Smith and his 18-piece orchestra do a first-rate job delivering the music for the show, sensitively accompanying the cast.

Director Jim Reiter and Assistant Director Jeff Hitaffer use the talents of the cast and manage to move the action briskly through 25 scene changes. Hitaffer doubles as a choreographer along with five others - Hana Thornhill, Kelly Reiter, Tiffany Shannon, Kaitlin Shannon and Jamie Hanna - bringing magic to the show.

Actor-singer-dancer Ronnie Schronce captures the savvy ambition and affability of central character J. Pierrepont Finch, who rises from window washer to CEO of World Wide Wickets. Schronce's Finch charms us to the point that we're pulling for him as he shamelessly exploits and manipulates co-workers. Schronce sells all his songs, from a spirited rendition of the alma mater "Grand Old Ivy," delivered with Gordon Kiefer's J.B. Biggley, to an affectionate "Rosemary," to a show-stopping rendition of the main number, "I Believe in You."

As Rosemary, the versatile Hana Thornhill, 18, follows a memorable 2nd Star debut as Lola in last season's Damn Yankees with an equally fine portrayal of the loyal secretary who falls in love with Finch. A fine ensemble player, Thornhill displays a warm chemistry with Schronce's Finch in "Rosemary" and charms us with "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm." Thornhill's Rosemary has an easy rapport with other characters in the steno pool, communicating enough spunk to maintain audience interest despite being compelled to deliver some pre-liberation lines that might offend the feminist-minded.

Hitaffer creates a hilarious Bud Frump - who is the nephew of big boss J.B. Biggley and Finch's archrival - who is consistently outsmarted, starting in the mail room. Hitaffer's Frump is funny as a pathetic mama's boy endlessly complaining in phone conversations with her and deliciously evil as he savors his good fortune at discovering Biggley's unprofessional liaison with Hedy LaRue. Hitaffer brings distinctive energy and athleticism to the superb dance numbers "Coffee Break," "Been a Long Day," "The Company Way" and "I Believe in You," innovatively sung and danced in the executive washroom.

Other noteworthy performances are given by Chelsea McNabb, as secretary Smitty, who proves to have a big, brassy Broadway voice in numbers such as "Coffee Break" and "Paris Original." Kelly Reiter's Hedy LaRue is a consistent comic delight as Biggley's sexy protege. Kiefer brings the right ingredients, including a strong singing voice and great verve, to company president Biggley. Hanna consistently enhances dance numbers with talent and energy while bringing fun to his portrayal of the World Wide Wicket TV show announcer.

Although the Loesser tunes are considerably lesser than those in Guys and Dolls or the near-operatic The Most Happy Fella, his satirical lyrics shine. Having begun his career as a lyricist, Loesser, on the 1960s treatment of secretaries, cautions: "A secretary is not a toy. Her pad is to write in. And not spend the night in." And still shining bright is Finch's impish theme: "To see the cool, clear eyes - Of a seeker of wisdom and truth - Yet with the slam, bang, tang - Reminiscent of gin and vermouth. Oh, I believe in you, I believe in you."

We still can believe in Finch as portrayed in 2nd Star's production.

Weekend performances continue through July 1 at Bowie Playhouse in Whitemarsh Park. Tomorrow's performance is sold out. General admission is $17; seniors and full-time students pay $14. For reservations, call box office at 410-757-5700 or 301-858-7245.

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