It was a story about one man’s ascension to become a captain of industry. A tale filled with romance, corporate backstabbing and a small army of businessmen and women cowering in fear of one overbearing aristocrat with an outrageous haircut and the power to belt out the phrase “You’re fired!”
No, I’m not talking about “The Apprentice.”
Last week, TCNJ Musical Theatre (TMT) dazzled with its rendition of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” based on a book originally written by Abe Burrows and then converted into a stage play with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.
The two-act musical follows the rise of an ambitious window-washer named J. Pierrepont Finch, played by Pat Lavery, sophomore communication studies major, who hopes to earn big bucks in the business world by following the instructions of a book that shares its name with the play. Heeding the book’s voice, which was provided by All College Theatre president and College stage veteran James Van Strander, Finch works his way up the ladder at the World Wide Wickets company, a firm whose purpose is as ambiguous as the product it sells.
Finch’s improbable rise does not come easily. He is forced to contend with his delightfully ignorant boss J.B. Biggley, played by James Introcaso, junior communication studies major, a sexpot secretary named Hedy LaRue, played by Maria Aromando, junior marketing major, and Biggley’s conniving nephew Bud Frump, played by Andrew Timmes, sophomore computer science major.
Oh, and of course there is a love interest. Finch starts to fall for an adorable young secretary named Rosemary, played by Eden Casalino, sophomore music education major, and has to manage a romance with his ambitions. You can imagine how well that turns out.
Timmes’ brat-like behavior and ceaseless energy as Frump play very well off the confidence Lavery exudes under the guise of Finch. While the duo works well whenever they share the stage, Timmes nearly steals the show with his quasi-epileptic antics and sniveling voice. He plays the part of a “miserable little shit” villain perfectly.
“I think (the way I performed) on stage today was a product of all the stress from production,” Timmes said, “In a sense, I cheated a little with my character.”
While Timmes hit a home run from an acting standpoint, nobody could match Lavery or Casalino vocally. The pair harmonized beautifully toward the end of the first act in a romantic number titled “Rosemary,” wherein it seems for a fleeting second that Finch might actually be able to get his priorities straight and marry the darling secretary. Earlier on, Casalino burst out into a happy little number called “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” as she swooned over Finch after their first encounter. However, Lavery went stride for stride with his co-star, belting out the passionate “I Believe In You” to a mirror in the executive washroom during the second act.
“This was a sort of coming home for me,” Lavery said. “My first theater experience was in a musical. I didn’t actually start doing straight plays until my junior year of high school. I guess you could say I’m just rooted into musicals.”
While the solo pieces work well to advance the plot of the play, there are several catchy tunes that are purely for fun involving a good majority of the cast.
Early in Act I, Frump and the sarcastic veteran secretary named Smitty, played by senior music major Lisa Lombardelli, led nearly the entire cast in a number titled “Coffee Break,” which sees the whole ensemble have a conniption when it seems the office has run out of its favorite caffeinated beverage.
Later on, while Rosemary is sporting a brand new dress she has ordered “straight from gay Paris,” the rest of the female cast strolled out one-by-one wearing the same outfit. Rosemary, Smitty and the rest of the secretaries break out into a song called “Paris Original,” lamenting their situation until the voluptuous Miss LaRue appears wearing the same dress and ensnares the rest of the executives.
Once again, the members of TMT pulled off an exciting and smooth performance, and seemed like they had fun doing it, proving that they know how to succeed in theater … without really trying.