Q: Why would a twenty-one year old worth more than sixty million dollars take a break from a phenomenally successful movie career to risk the trials and perils of Broadway?
A: Because he can. If the current production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is bringing in a rash of first time theater goers eager to see Daniel Radcliffe in the flesh, all the better. He can sing, he can dance, and he’s utterly charming as young man on the make, J. Pierrepont Finch, in this excellent revival.
A: Because he’s John Larroquette, an accomplished actor who welcomes new challenges, and whose portrayal of the big boss, J.B. Biggley, is both droll and touching.
This is the 50th Anniversary production; the décor and the costumes capture the late 50’s, early 60’s era. Turquoise was big then, and there’s plenty of it onstage. Ditto for lime green and pink. Hair bands, T-strap shoes, and little jackets are in evidence on the secretaries. And lest we forget, the Mad Men attitude toward women is front and center. It well may be that “A Secretary Is Not A Toy,” according to company policy, but it’s pretty clear that the glass ceiling is firmly in place at World-Wide Wickets.
Enter Rose Hemingway as Rosemary Pillkington. Even while singing her desire to be “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm,” she manages to convey that in another time period—please God, today—Finch would be lucky to be keeping her dinner warm. This is Hemingway’s Broadway debut; she’s definitely one to watch. Her Rosemary is pretty, spunky, smart, and way too ambitious to be content for very long being a housewife, stuck in New Rochelle. I’d pay good money to see the sequel to her story.
Incidentally, there are several anachronisms in evidence, one of which is the idea that any upwardly mobile bright young thing would settle for the Dick Van Dyke Show’s home base of New Rochelle. Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Bedford would be at the forefront of the present day fantasy life. And what a yuk it is to imagine coffee being a nickel! To counter this, we have the in joke of Radcliffe jumping up and down on a couch to declare his love, a la Tom Cruise on Oprah.
The whole cast is terrific, but my heart was especially gladdened to discover the brilliant Tammy Blanchard adding oomph in spades to the quintessential bimbo, hatcheck girl turned wannabe secretary, Hedy La Rue. She enters wearing an outfit of deep pink, complete with turban, fur collar, and tiny cinched waist. Bright auburn beehived hair, sky high heels, and glitzy jewels and purse complete the picture. She’s gorgeous, really sexy, and totally irresistible to men. The fact that Blanchard also makes her intriguing and even sympathetic is a mark of just how fine an actress she is. But don’t take my word for it. Do yourself a favor and check out her Emmy Award winning performance as the title diva in Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows. I dare you to watch her heartbreaking We Were The Mulvaneys with only one hankie. But where oh where did Blanchard ever find that inane Hedy smile? Perfection!
Of course, it’s Radcliffe’s smile that brings down the house every time. As Finch works his way up from window washer, he consults his little how-to book every step of the journey. Whenever he finds himself climbing up a notch, he beams out to the audience.
Radcliffe reminds me of a young Michael J. Fox, using his short statue to get laughs. The fact that Larroquette, at 6’4,” is nearly a foot taller helps fuel their “Old Ivy” sight gag. So much of the acceptance the audience feels toward Finch’s often pretty despicable behavior (he ditches a lunch date with Rosemary for a better offer, and sets up his boss so he can take his job) is because the actor playing him really is young. Ambition in a kid who’s got brains but an ostensibly dead end job just doesn’t seem quite as egregious as it would in someone older and more jaded.
Because the truth is, no matter how great the rest of the production may be, if we don’t fall for the lead actor, it’s a pretty sour play. Daniel Radcliffe brings all the energy, talent, and charisma that’s needed to grab the audience from the beginning, and keep us rooting for him. And, he’s even Jewish! How great can life get?
How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 45th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics. www.michalljeffers.com