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Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying 

Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts stages the corporate musical

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Photo by John Barrios

The bright-eyed and eager J. Pierrepont Finch accepts an entry-level job in the mailroom of World Wide Wicket Company. He doesn't plan to stay in the position long, though, because he has a how-to book that promises to help him climb the corporate ladder in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, recently presented at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts,

  Finch (Bobby Kelly) acts coy around the office watercooler, but he's a schemer. He's also fortunate to constantly find himself in the right place at the right time, and sometimes he sets up co-workers to be fired. Kelly is a talented singer and injects Finch with warmth to make him likable and enough sleaze to make him dangerous. Finding that balance is no small feat as Finch pursues unethical plans and is dismissive of his office admirer, Rosemary Pilkington (Abby Botnick). Botnick also has one of the cast's stronger voices, and she is funny as a woman pursuing a man more interested in his career ambitions.

  Directed by Gary Rucker, the musical satirizes corporate culture in a lighthearted way. The show's songs pull from workplace minutiae such as coffee breaks and corporate drones. It premiered on Broadway in 1961, and there's a slightly cringe-worthy song about secretaries. Outdated gender roles aside, the lyrics often are hilarious, and choreographer Michelle Macicek pumps dance numbers with energy. Finch navigates his way around the company by consulting his how-to book, which is full of witty quips about ways to get out of the mailroom and how to choose a secretary. Jim Fitzmorris voices the book's nuggets of wisdom in a funny ongoing gag that explains Finch's rapid ascent.

  His success makes him a rival to some co-workers, especially his nemesis Bud Frump (Preston Meche). Frump is the nephew of CEO J.B. Biggley (Louis Dudoussat) and he throws tantrums when he doesn't get his way. Meche pushes his sense of entitlement to hilarious extremes. Frump blackmails his uncle over an affair with Hedy LaRue (Carrie Daigle Bach). LaRue is a busty blonde whom Biggley hires as a secretary to keep her from leaving town. Bach gives her Marilyn Monroe-esque sensuality but also enough depth to make her believable. LaRue has no office experience, but she's street-smart.

  While the musical parodies business culture as petty and ineffective, it is a place where a determined and opportunistic person like Finch can rise to the top. Finch thinks his humble origins and lack of experience hinder him, but they actually help him in the end. This energetic production takes the enduring things people hate about the 9-to-5 grind and turns them into comedy gold.


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