How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
L to R: Nikki Arias (Miss Jones), Sarah Mitchell (Smitty), Chloe Condon (Rosemary), Benjamin Nguyen (Mr. Gatch), and Matt Ono (Mr. Bratt). Photo credit: benkrantzSTUDIO.
In Review

How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying

3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars - 'Sweet Stuff'
Marines Memorial Theatre, San Francisco
Review by Cy Ashley Webb

Even before the reviews come out, the question hovers: does the Bay Area really need another theatre? BAM! (Bay Area Musicals) Artistic Director Matthew McCoy apparently thinks so, and if BAM!’s three-show season is any indication, perhaps there is. Like this inaugural show, the season’s other two shows (HairCage au Folles) are both done often… and not particularly well. If McCoy can stage consistently excellent productions of these, then he will have done something quite different.

BAM!’s inaugural season opened with 1961 Tony winner How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying at Marine’s Memorial Theatre. This plucky, somewhat audacious venture exceeded expectations.

How to Succeed is a cheeky look at climbing the corporate ladder that premiered on Broadway in 1961. The fact that it existed at all, especially on Broadway, speaks of a degree of cultural self-awareness that the Mad Men world of the early ’60’s doesn’t usually reveal. When showing how people thought of their lives, it’s important to get it right. As accurate as Mad Men tried to be, is it possible that the self awareness missing in,  say, an early Pete Campbell, wasn’t really missing? No hard conclusions, but worth a bit of thought.

If you haven’t seen How to Succeed before, see it now makes you appreciate just how big a shadow this show casts – both with respect to music and story line.   Listen to Urinetown and you’ll hear straight into Stop that Man. 

Musing aside, however… anxiety engendered by a 20 minute-late curtain time, was unmerited. This BAM! Production delivered its audience into safer waters with stylized choreography, and the killer acting chops of its principals.

Kyle Stoner delivers a J. Pierrepont Finch you enjoy, but never trust.  That’s the sweet spot for any portrayal of this corporate climber who’s starting in the mail room at World Wide Wickets, with corporate guidebook always in hand. Stoner’s got that “goose me,” sweet silliness this role needs.

If McCoy can stage consistently excellent productions of these, then he will have done something quite different.

Chloe Condon gives us a Rosemary who’s as full of unshakeable conviction from the moment she first clamps eyes on Finch as she is at curtain call. That’s a tall order, but Condon’s Rosemary has a hint of depth missing from many productions.

Some of the most enjoyable moments were thanks to Brendon North’s Bud Frump, exuding as he did that “ooh, wasn’t I good” smirk. Frump’s character may be less complex, but that doesn’t stop North from inhabiting every inch of him.

Nicole Frydman, as Smitty, matches Chloe Condon’s Rosemary, megawatt for megawatt. Their equal alignment boosts every song they sing together.

Also worth a shoutout are Kirk Johnson as company president J.B. Biggley, and Mary Kalita as Hedy LaRue.

Several small problems nagged at my mind, like the poor fit of Frump’s suit. Wondering whether stage directions called for an ill-fitting suit isn’t where my head needed to go.  Other costuming ideas, however, like the thick hosiery, were spot on.

Despite excellent choreography, and execution by the principals, male dance numbers repeatedly looked confused. Fortunately, the principal dancers were so unerringly crisp that this wasn’t as big a problem as it could have been.

These small nits didn’t detract from the whole, however. BAM!’s first offering makes the mark, with very reasonably priced tickets being an extra sweetener. Through December 19.

Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.