How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying originally premiered in 1961. With music by Guys & Dolls composer Frank Loesser, the musical was an instant hit winning both the Tony Award for Best Musical and a Pulitzer Prize. The original West End production opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 1963 directed by book writer Abe Burrows and renowned director/choreographer Bob Fosse. A film adaptation was produced in 1967, with most of the original Broadway cast reprising their roles. Since then the show has seen international success and sparkling revivals have been mounted starring the likes of Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally in 1995 and our own Daniel Radcliffe in a 50th Anniversary production in 2011 on Broadway. Now How To Succeed is back in London, this time at the Southwark Playhouse in a small intimate production which sees the show enthusiastically reinvented, providing a fresh take on the classic musical.
A satire of big business and all it holds sacred, the celebrated musical follows the rise of J. Pierrepont Finch, a young man who uses a little handbook called How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying to manipulate his way up the corporate ladder from lowly ambitious window washer to high-powered executive. Along the way he tackles such familiar but potent dangers as the aggressively compliant “company man”, the office party, backstabbing co-workers, caffeine addiction and, of course, true love.
In this Southwark Playhouse production, Georgie Rankcom directs Gabrielle Friedman (Little Woman, Sondheim: Old Friends) as J. Pierrepont Finch, Allie Daniel (Legally Blonde, Rent, Millennials) as Rosemary Pilkington, Tracie Bennett (Tony winner, double Olivier award winner, Hangmen, Mame, Ruthless The Musical) as J.B. Biggley, Elliot Gooch (Dorian: A Rock Musical, Grease, Once On This Island) as Bud Frump, Milo McCarthy (Birds and Bees, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Carrie) as Mr. Milton Gatch, Verity Power (Zombies: The Musical, Blonde, Trump L’Oeil) as Smitty, Grace Kanyamibwa (The Book Of Mormon, Gypsy, Pippin) as Miss Jones, Annie Aitken (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Frank Wildhorn & Friends) as Hedy Larue, Danny Lane (Only Fools and Horses The Musical, Anyone Can Whistle, Soho Cinders) as Mr. Twimble/Mr. Wally Womper, Taylor Bradshaw (42nd Street, Spring Awakening, South Pacific) as Mr. Bert Bratt and RuPaul Drag Race legend Michelle Visage as the Voice Of “The Book”.
As J. Pierrepont Finch, Gabrielle Friedman gives a solid performance. Barely leaving the stage in this mammoth role, they confidently embrace the character head on portraying a Finch that’s genuine and seemingly bursting with ambition. The chemistry between Friedman and Allie Daniel, who plays Rosemary, is sweet and perfectly in sync with the tone of the show. Tracie Bennett gives a not-to-be-missed masterclass in her portrayal of World Wide Wicket Company boss J.B. Biggley. With incredible wit and comic timing, Bennet has a lot of fun and has the audience in stitches from her first entrance. Verity Power gave a fun performance as Smitty, drawing focus whenever onstage and Grace Kanyamibwa as Miss Jones was a commanding presence. Milo McCarthy gave a perfectly stoic performance as Mr. Milton Gatch while Taylor Bradshaw’s Mr. Bert Bratt was every bit the company man. Danny Lane as Mr. Twimble/Mr. Wally Womper gave an energetic performance throughout and Annie Aitken’s Hedy Larue provided many a laugh. Elliot Gooch’s portrayal as Bud Frump was absolutely hilarious throughout. With oodles of personality and bouts of physical humour, Gooch gave a lively scene-stealing performance. As Rosemary Pilkington, Allie Daniel gives an unforgettable performance. With a delightful blend of deadpan humour and genuine heartfelt emotion, she gave a performance that was equal parts reverent and fresh. Daniel’s vocal placement and control throughout the show are sublime, leaving the audience humming Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm for days.
In this production of How To Succeed, director Georgie Rankcom has truly worked wonders in bringing a fresh perspective to the show. A lot of revivals are produced based on nostalgia, bringing back familiar characters with tried and tested stories, often without much artistic merit. Rankcom has avoided this trope and allowed her gender diverse actors to bring each character to life in a new way with their own personalities and individuality shining through. With the other Frank
Loesser behemoth Guys & Dolls playing just down the road, this is a great opportunity to see How To Succeed in a wonderfully intimate venue in a very special production.
Reviewed by Stuart James