Darren Criss Lights Up Stage In ‘Business’ Debut
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 20:01
The only bad thing about How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is that Anderson Cooper doesn't narrate his role in person.
The show, which follows the rapid rise to the top of the corporate ladder of J. Pierrepoint Finch (Darren Criss), with the guidance of a self-help book (narrated by Cooper) bearing the same name as the show, has starred Harry Potter phenom Daniel Radcliffe, and currently features Glee's Criss. It will welcome Jonas Brother Nick Jonas once Criss' brief run comes to an end on Jan. 24.
Set in the early 1960s, How to Succeed has a fittingly high-energy cast; just what you'd expect from a bright, upbeat 60s musical, similar to that of Broadway hit Hairspray. The storyline, which covers everything from affairs to nepotism to falling in love with one's secretary to college allegiances, is adapted from Shepherd Mead's satirical book of the same name, which was published in 1952. Finch, a former window-washer, bluffs himself into a job at the World Wide Wicket Company (WWWC) and quickly aligns himself for promotion after promotion, without ever actually working or doing anything but hobnobbing with company big shots to merit a promotion. The audience gets to see the inner workings of the corporate system, which are all exploited by Finch, making for hilarious commentary on the organization, until Finch's scheming success makes him a target for the other men at the company. Woven into the plot is WWWC President J.B. Biggley's (Beau Bridges) badly concealed affair with floozy secretary Hedy La Rue (Tammy Blanchard) and the convenient love story between secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Rose Hemingway) and Finch, or "Ponty" as she calls him. At the close of the show, Finch is able to back himself out of a corner with an unexpected godsend from WWWC bigwig Wolly Womper (Rob Bartlett). With such a well-constructed plot, the audience is always surprised, though the self-help book expects every turn Finch makes. True to its roots in the 1950s and 60s, the show is jam-packed with early 60s social cues, with songs like "A Secretary is Not a Toy" and "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm," which act almost satirically on the modern stage and make the already satire-heavy show that much punchier.
Criss, who made his Broadway debut in How to Succeed this month, proved that his on-screen ability, which has captured the hearts of thousands of teenage girls, translates to wowing a live audience as well. Admittedly, a second downfall of the show is the massive amount of cheers that erupt from the audience when Criss appears on stage for the first time. Nevertheless, Criss' stellar comedic timing and knack for physical comedy, paired with his seamless transition into the role of cocky, charming, clever Finch, left the audience in stitches. The only indication that Criss was a newcomer was his disappointingly weak performance in "Brotherhood of Men," though his limited vocal power in the high-octave number was barely detectable through the intense choreography, not to mention the vocal support of the entire, near-flawless male cast. The effortless chemistry between Criss and veteran actor Bridges, especially in the most humorous scenes, is also an incredible treat. One of the most unpredictably entertaining numbers of the entire show is "Grand Old Ivy," which is performed by Criss and Bridges (and a group of 1930s-era football players). It made use of both actors' talent for physical comedy as both performed the collegiate fight song (and dance) of the Old Ivy Groundhogs, the mascot of the school that Finch pretends to have attended in order to impress Biggley. Also unexpected in this scene was the inventive set design, which allowed for the players to appear from a hidden doorway below the stage and then dive, jump, and fall into the chute when it was their turn to exit.
Not to be underplayed, however, is the cast of extremely well polished supporting roles, most notably J.B. Biggley's lazy, nepotism-receiving nephew, Bud Frump (Christopher J. Hanke), and Finch's hopeless-romantic love interest, Rosemary Pilkington. The direction also spiced up the two-time revival show with modern pop-culture references (like Tom Cruise's couch-jump on the Oprah show) and had an eye for comedic opportunities, proving that more "classic" style Broadway can succeed in a time where "modern" musicals like Next to Normal and American Idiot are gaining popularity.
Performed in true Broadway fashion, raunchy, fabulous, and spectacular, How to Succeed is a treat for the true Broadway fan (or the Glee fan). It has earned its place alongside other Great White Way classic revivals like 42nd Street, Chicago, and Anything Goes and would be a delightful addition to Broadway as a long-running, resident musical.