The climb up the corporate ladder is a little bumpy but mostly enjoyable in the funny and lighthearted production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at Venice Theatre.
From the outset, director and choreographer Brad Wages inserts some clever approaches in his dance routines to create a picture of the routine of corporate life. But from the opening number, the performers and the orchestra, led by musical director Michelle Kasanofsky, struggle to make things work smoothly. The movements are stiff and forced, rather than free and natural.
But in the show’s more intimate and funny movements, the cast mostly soars, often on the strength of a charming (if a bit broad) performance by Jason Ellis as J. Pierrepont Finch, the window washer who uses a how-to book to quickly maneuver his way to the top of the World Wide Wickets corporation.
Ellis has a genial style, a winning smile and a voice perfectly suited to a young man on the way up. He follows a style evident throughout Wages’ production that goes for bigger and brighter when a touch more subtlety would be welcome to provide balance and grounding.
You can see how that works in the lovely performance of Sarah Cassidy as Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary who casts her eye on Finch the minute he walks in the building. She has grace, a lovely singing voice and really makes you feel her emotions when she sings “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm.”
Timothy J. Fitzgerald mixes pomposity with a sense of a little boy seeking comfort as the overly-taxed president J.B. Bigley. He shares a comically intimate moment with Danae DeShazer as his squeaky-voiced mistress, Hedy LaRue, who puts flair into a tender shimmy during “Love From a Heart of Gold.”
Laurie Colton has spirit as the secretary Smitty, while Kim Kollar has just the right starchy but human approach as Bigley’s secretary Miss Jones. As a human resources executive, David P. Brown conveys a sense of a man who tries to keep control but wants to let loose and defy his own orders leading “A Secretary is Not a Toy.”
William Murphy is fun to watch, if a bit over the top, as the comical foil, Bud Frump (Bigley’s incompetent and blackmailing nephew).
Scenic designer Donna Buckalter has created an attractive, wide-open playing space down front, and a colorful two-tier structure with offices to give a sense of corporate culture. Nicholas Hartman’s 1960s style costumes are a nice match, though though some of the women’s outfits look a bit flashy for the office setting.
David Castaneda’s lighting pinpoints key moments when Finch hits a new goal.
Though the show is now 51 years old, Abe Burrows’ book still generates laughs, and Frank Loesser’s score has an enjoyable lilting tone building up to the rousing “Brotherhood of Man,” which sends everyone out with a smile.