Theater Review

Satirical, dated comedy comes to Theatre-by-the-Sea


Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows’ “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” won seven Tony Awards when I first saw the musical back in 1962. It went on to win a Tony for Matthew Broderick in its 1995 Broadway revival and another one for John Larroquette in another revival last year.

It is only fitting that Theatre-by-the-Sea would join in the success, bringing the popular show to Matunuck.

Ocean State Theatre Company recently brought Lenny Watts, one of TBTS’s favorite comic actors, back to Rhode Island to star in another musical, so why not bring him back to direct this outrageous comedy. (Watts will also join them in SantaLand Diaries in their new Warwick location this December).

Watts has pulled out all the stops in this spoof of the world of business, allowing the actors to play their characters broadly. In most cases it works, but I must admit to cringing a few times at the loud, nasal tones of most of the actresses…and one actor.

You have to treat the musical as somewhat of a Broadway icon. While not a lot has changed in the business world in the last 50 years (Yes, the musical is 50 years old!), it is a bit outdated and sexist.

While many of the musicals of the era boast memorable songs, “How To Succeed…” can at least claim two: “I Believe in You,” which became a popular love song, although it was written as an ego trip for the main character, and the show closing “Brotherhood of Man.”

Erik Keiser is perfectly cast as J. Pierrepont Finch, the lowly window washer who buys a book on “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” referring to the chapters main points as he fights, lies and cheats his way up the corporate ladder.

Tony Triano plays the CEO of the World Wide Wicket Company who is easily conned by and takes a liking to Finch. Derek Johnson plays his nephew, a true case of nepotism, who tries unsuccessfully to take Finch out of the game. When I said the actors played their roles broadly, none could match Johnson.

Well, maybe one.

Bianca Denis is Hedy LaRue, the overpowering mistress of the boss who lands a job as secretary and screams her way through the musical. Melissa Robinette is the frustrated secretary who tries to get Finch’s attention as he climbs over everyone to get to the top.

There are other good performances and voices in the capable cast. David Cabral has come up with fabulous ’60s costumes, and Chris Saunders does as well as can be with the crowded stage.

If you like your comedy broad and in your face, you’ll like “How To Succeed….” At Theatre-by-the-Sea through Sept. 2. For tickets ($39 to $54) call 782-8587.


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