HOLLY QUINN, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS JOURNAL
10:09 a.m. EDT March 23, 2015
With the final season of ‘Mad Men’ about to take over water cooler conversations again, The Candlelight Theatre couldn’t have chosen a better time for a production of the ‘60s corporate shark tank musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The satire of American business culture (which recently enjoyed a Broadway revival starring Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe) is funnier than some mid-20th century satires, which often come off as cringeworthy in their dated-ness. ‘How to Succeed’ is dated, make no mistake, but Dann Dunn’s version is more of a window into the days before modern feminism and sensibility than an ode to it.
Leading the cast is Zachary Chiero as J. Pierrepont Finch, an enterprising window washer who schemes his way up the corporate ladder at The World Wide Wicket Company with the help of a book called, yes, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Chiero gives Pierrepont a likeability that makes you root for him, even as he takes down everyone in his path.
Finch’s main foil is the boss’ nephew, Bud Frump, played by Sam Nagel. Frump is the villain of the show and undeniably unlikable – and also funnier, more entertaining and fun to watch. Nagel is one of the standouts in the show along with Janine Merolla in a delightfully deceptive performance as Miss Jones and Tori Healy, who, on the heels of her show-stealing performance in “Young Frankenstein,” approaches a near-Fonzie audience reaction when she first enters the stage as the feisty secretary Smitty.
The story shows two sides of corporate business: the wheelings and dealings of the men, including the adulterous but affable big boss J.B. Biggley, played by David Schwartz, who are always trying to get ahead in business; and the wheelings and dealings of the woman secretaries, including Biggley’s bombshell mistress Hedy LaRue, who are always trying to land a successful man.
Unlike “Mad Men,” the show is an actual product of its time – there’s no enterprising Peggy, no Betty to show the dark side of being a suburban housewife. To be a secretary who marries a businessman is the goal, a fairytale ending.
The embodiment of Succeed’s ideal woman is its heroine, Rosemary, played by Madalyn St. John. When Rosemary sings about her hopes and dreams in the first act, they involve keeping Finch’s dinner warm as she waits for him to return to their suburban dream home after work. Ah, the golden age.
Still, the story is entertaining, and, other than a couple of timing blips, it’s a big Broadway show presented in big Broadway fashion. The dance numbers, choreographed by Dunn, are tight, the ensemble highly talented across the board.
As always with main stage shows, The Candlelight includes a sit-down buffet dinner with a full bar featuring show-themed cocktails.
Holly Quinn is a Wilmington freelance writer.