“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the 1961 hit musical comedy by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows, offers a parallax view of the business world that continually causes us to shift our viewpoint between modern and postmodern perspectives.
Presciently, Loesser and Burrows called their fictional corporation the World Wide Wicket Co., and WWW serves as a link between the wickets of the 1960s and the gadgets of the 2010s in this clever Super Summer Theatre production directed and choreographed by Keith Dotson for First Step Productions at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.
Young J. Pierrepont Finch is a window washer on his way up thanks to the advice of a motivational book, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” a ’60s version of “Who Moved My Cheese?” (well-voiced by Carnell Johnson). Through a combination of luck and pluck, Finch rises through the corporate ranks.
His advancement is shadowed by Finch’s nemesis, Bud Frump, the nephew of boss J.B. Biggley. A less obvious obstacle to Finch’s ambition is his affectionate secretary, Rosemary Pilkington. When success is within his grasp, office backbiting and sexual politics threaten to send him back to the scaffold.
Nicholas King shines as Finch. He has a fresh, boyish singing voice, and he brings such an infectious self-confidence to the character that when he sings the self-affirmation “I Believe in You,” the audience believes in him, too.
Not so poor Bud Frump. He serves as a doppelganger to Finch. Finch’s rise is his fall. Scott Gibson-Uebele plays Frump with a broad vaudevillian villainy that is perfect for the role. He has the audience almost booing him — good-naturedly.
Brenna Folger could easily have played the husband-hunting secretary Rosemary Pilkington as a simpering bimbo. Folger is pretty in pink and speaks in a breathy Jackie Kennedy voice, but she belts out “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” with a throaty sexiness, and her verve allows her to hold her own alongside King in a well-balanced performance.
“Business” is set in a period when women were entering the workforce in increasing numbers, but these secretaries have set their sights on bagging a husband. All except for Miss Jones, J.B.’s executive secretary, played by cast standout Nakase Harris. Miss Jones is a single career woman in a powerful position. She is the only woman who appears in the boardroom and she leads the men in singing the rousing, gospel-like anthem “Brotherhood of Man.”
The only other woman in the play with the power to make or break a man’s career is Hedy La Rue, J.B.’s mistress, played by Kat Doyle. The statuesque Doyle makes a showstopping entrance as a secretary who can’t type but who has the men all vying for her services. She oozes malapropisms. Interestingly, WWW’s sexual harassment policy, “A Secretary Is Not a Toy,” is not that different from today — and just as ignored.
Michael Brown as the boss, J.B. Biggley, is funny every time he walks on the stage. He performs one of the show’s best sight gags with perfect comic deadpan. Another standout among the supporting players is Stephen Rinck as the quarter-century man, Mr. Twimble, who teaches Finch “The Company Way.” Amanda Kraft is Rosemary’s amusing sidekick, Smitty, in an outlandish ’60s wig. Jonathan Tuala earned an ovation in one of the play’s funniest bits as ad executive Benjamin Burton Daniel Ovington.
The show’s ensemble players displayed talent and professionalism when they continued a big production number a cappella without missing a beat and in perfect pitch when the canned soundtrack cut out.
Scenic designer Andy Walmsey sets the perfect tone for the play through a backdrop resembling Eames rectangles in cartoonlike midcentury modern colors. Yet, all this color fades into the background when WWW’s secretaries and executives perform Dotson’s jazzy choreography in ’60s Technicolor fashions that will leave the Mad Man in you drooling.