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Steve Feeney

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Posted: February 25, 2015

Lyric’s ‘How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’ a worthwhile serving of theater

Written by: Steve Feeney
Tommy Waltz as Pierpont Finch. Lyric Theater courtesy photo

Tommy Waltz as Pierpont Finch. Lyric Theater courtesy photo

Lyric Music Theater has opened a production of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” a musical that takes us back to those days when a rapidly-expanding corporate America was ripe for satire. The show may be a bit politically incorrect and definitely pre-feminist, but its world is not so far removed from today that it can’t still bring laughs of recognition to go along with the pleasures of experiencing all the great song and dance numbers.

Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows were the principal architects of the 1961 show which tells the tale of a window cleaner who improbably climbs to the top rungs of a company by following the recommendations of a self-help book. Director Don Smith and a fine Lyric staff have put together a spirited take on this award-winning musical classic. Running two-and-one-half hours plus intermission, its a very full serving of theater but a worthwhile one.

Tommy Waltz, a standout in the Portland Players’ recent take on “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” grabs the lead role as J. Pierpont Finch and never lets go. Whether Finch would ever have succeeded in the actual business world is debatable. But, as played by the impish Waltz, his clever way of getting ahead is great fun to watch.

Waltz conveys the ingratiating manner of Finch through physical movement as well as verbal quickness. His character always finds a way to squeeze through tight situations and the slender Waltz has the moves to make it a treat to see. In such memorable song and dance numbers as his duets with John Schrank on “Grand Old Ivey” and Bill McCue on “The Company Way,” the actor shines brightly. The show’s signature piece, “I Believe in You,” has Waltz’ Finch mugging and preening hilariously before a mirror, while “Brother of Man” finds the triumphant lead surrounded by executives who have signed on to his faux-magnanimous philosophy for getting ahead.

The standouts in the large supporting cast are many, including the aforementioned Schrank, with his theater-filling voice, and a hilarious Zack Handlen, as the boss’s nephew for whom nepotism isn’t enough when up against Finch.

Kim Drisko as Hedy LaRue. Lyric Theater courtesy photo

Kim Drisko as Hedy LaRue. Lyric Theater courtesy photo

Rachel Henry, as the secretary in love with Finch, has fine moments on the self-explanatory “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” and steps out stylishly on “Paris Original,” joined by most of the female members of the cast. Kim Drisko gets the stereotypical but still funny role of Hedy LaRue, the blonde bombshell whose limited typing skills are certainly not what makes her popular with the all-male executives. She and Schrank have a lot of fun with “Love From a Heart of Gold.”

The choreography by Victoria Perreault has that sort of 1960s jazzy feel and the live music under the direction of Jason Phillips powers-up nicely for the big ensemble numbers. The costumes by Megan Bremermann reflect the period with just a hint of fashion evolution as the show moves along. The set design by Director Smith gets a workout as walls and furniture are moved about to fit twenty-three scenes, almost all backed by a painting of the New York City skyline.

Though a bit of a time capsule on both a theatrical and sociological level, the folks at Lyric Theater make a strong case that this show can still climb toward the top of the entertainment ladder.

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”

WHERE: Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St, South Portland
REVIEWED: Feb. 22; continues through March 7
TICKETS: $17.99-$21.99
CONTACT: 207-799-1421; lyricmusictheater.org

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