Daniel Radcliffe is starring as J. Pierrepont Fitch in the Broadway revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and he is fantastic. In fact the entire show is terrific and everyone was cheering when I saw it last Sunday.
The show tells the story of one very ambitious window washer (Fitch) and his meteoric rise to the top of the corporate ladder. We first see him high above the stage in his window-washing garb reading a book titled How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. The book tells him (narrated by Anderson Cooper) to find a company that is just large enough so that its employees aren't quite sure what each other do. He settles on the World Wide Wicket Company and the next thing you know he's in the mailroom. After only a few days the mailroom is already too confining for our Mr. Fitch. He sets his sites on Mail Room Supervisor in direct competition with the big boss's nephew Bud Frump, well played by Christopher J. Hanke. After the very clever and well-choreographed number "Company Way" Fitch, as well as the audience learns about office politics and the pitfalls of staying in one job too long, Fitch wins the promotion but turns it over to Bud Frump. A very clever move indeed as suddenly he's seen as a very giving and thoughtful person and possibly the next big junior executive. Fitch's strategic moves are showcased hysterically throughout the show with pauses and knowing glances to the audience. We are in on his plans from the start and what a fun ride it is.
There's also another very ambitious person in this show. Her name is Rosemary Pillkington, played by Rose Hemingway in her Broadway debut, and she's on a mission to marry our hero and sings the number "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm". The women's liberation movement apparently hadn't shaken up this world quite yet especially with the number "A Secretary is Not A Toy", but one can argue that Rosemary's ambition is on par with Fitch and she'll stop at nothing to land her man. Towards the end of Act 1, Rosemary gets her shot with the help of her friend Smitty and the number "It's Been A Long Day" set in a very crowded elevator. Next thing you know Fitch is hooked. Fitch's ambition takes him right to the big boss played superbly by John Larroquette and the number "Old Ivy" is hysterical.
The play originally debuted on Broadway in 1961 and won seven Tony's and the Pulitzer for Drama in 1962 plus it came back with Matthew Broderick in 1995. Although it is set in the late Fifties/early Sixties, it still rings true today. There's a scene in which Fitch needs to present his "Big Idea" in a board meeting. Basically his big idea consists of simply turning a graph of the company's downward spiraling profits upside down so that the graph shows the profits climbing! That seems to be enough for everyone and he gets enthusiastic reaction from all (except for Bud Frump). I was just in a meeting the other day at my company. When the question of creating "tools" for a project came up one of our illustrious department heads went on for five minutes dropping such terms as "fan engagement", "tweets" and "Facebook", but never answered one specific question. I sat there dumbstruck, while some of my colleagues cheered and shouted, "I agree." I thought immediately of J. Pierrepont Fitch.
My parents saw the show twice in the early sixties with Robert Morse and Rude Valle to which I replied, "How old are you people?" The show stuck with them as they started singing songs the moment I told them I was seeing the show. It's nice to know that great theater can transcend time and generations. What's going on at the Al Hirschfeld Theater is now speaking to whole new generations and it's saying some timeless and very funny things.
Check out some clips and interviews on ThatsKentertainment's You Tube Channel: