Theater Review: Grande shows how to ‘Succeed’ at MSMT
If you want to have the dibs on saying,”I saw him when ..., “ don’t miss the astounding performance of Frankie Grande in The Muhlenberg College Summer Music Theatre production of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.”
Grande does it all: act, sing and dance (including speed-tap and a handstand flip) in the terrifically-entertaining musical directed with impish charm by MSMT co-founder Charles Richter.
The Broadway classic continues through July 29, Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, Allentown. The opening night July 11 performance was seen for this review.
J. Pierrepont Finch (Frankie Grande) rises from window-washer to corporate executive in the funny and wise spoof of the 1950s’ New York City corporate world.
Along the way, Finch outduels J.B. Biggley (an excellent Peter Schmidt), romances Rosemary Pilkington (an effervescent and comedic Meredith Kate Doyle), dodges the advances of Hedy LaRue (Samantha Simon, very humorous in full-bombshell mode), and knocks egos with Smitty (a delightfully pugnacious Kelly Shannon).
With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, and based on the 1952 parody book by Shepherd Mead, the musical premiered in 1961 on Broadway, receiving seven Tony Awards, including best musical, author and composer, and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The conceit of the play is that Finch has read a self-help book (of the same title of the play with excerpts narrated convincingly throughout the show by Troy Dwyer), and is following its dictums on his way up the corporate ladder at the World Wide Wicket Company.
The MSMT production is typified by a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired set of lime, blue and carl-colored backdrops by Scenic Designer John Raley that has a comicstrip cleverness, including oversized two-dimensional telephones, briefcases and packages. Lighting Designer Gertjan Houben adds to the giddy look.
The women’s pastel dresses and men’s serious business attire recall the 1950s-’60s era as interpreted by Costume Designer Hunter Kaczorowski.
The cast of 17 and an additional 11 in the Ensemble is put through the paces by Choreographer Karen Dearborn and backed by a 10-piece orchestra with Music Director Bryan L. Wade.
Among the first act’s 12 songs (including two reprises) and second act’s eight songs (including one reprise), the MSMT’s “How To Succeed” has several outsanding production numbers, including:
“Coffee Break,” a wacky wake-up tango, with Bud (Zach Love), Smitty (Kelly Shannon) and the Ensemble
“A Secretary Is Not A Toy,” a funny yet way ahead of its time indictment, with Bratt (Timothy Janovsky), Bud, Miss Krumholtz (Zoe Miner) and the Ensemble
“Been A Long Day,” a lovely tune with Smitty, Rosemary (Meredith Kate Doyle) and Finch (Frankie Grande)
“Old Ivy,” a hilarious tune with Biggley (Peter Schmidt) and Finch (Grande tapping it out)
“Paris Original,” adorably funny song as females take the stage in 13 identical dress styles, with Rosemary, Smitty, Miss Jones (Krystal Hall) and the Female Ensemble
“Cinderella, Darling,” a brilliantly entertaining analysis of the Princess syndrome, with Smitty, Rosemary and the Female Ensemble
“Love From A Heart Of Gold,” a nostalgic sheet-music era throwback, with Biggley and Hedy (Samantha Simon) in fine voice.
“I Believe In You,” the American Songbook standard with Finch (Grande in his own winsome interpretation) and The Men
“Brotherhood Of Man,” the show’s signature showstopper, with Finch, Womper (Dan Dobro), Biggley, Miss Jones (Hall belts it out) and the Male Ensemble
“How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre succeeds like nobody’s business because everybody is trying and yet they make it appear all so effortless.
Tickets: Muhlenberg College Department of Theatre and Dance box office, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, 2400 Chew St., Allentown; muhlenberg.edu/theatre; 484-664-3333