ASK PLAYBILL.COM: The Story of a Song Gone Missing From How to Succeed

News   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: The Story of a Song Gone Missing From How to Succeed
 
A question asking about a song used in the 1995 Broadway revival of How to Succeed, but missing in the current revival.

Victoria Clark and Matthew Broderick in the 1995 revival.
Victoria Clark and Matthew Broderick in the 1995 revival. Photo by Joan Marcus

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QUESTION: In the 1995 Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, there was a reprise of the title tune, but it is not used in the new production. Why? — Playbill Staff

The first song of the Frank Loesser musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the title tune. Ambitious protagonist J. Pierrepont Finch hangs from his window-washer platform reading from a how-to book of the same title. "How to Apply for a Job," he sings. "How to Advance From the Mailroom…" By the time the syncopated song is over, he's changed from his overalls to a suit and tie, and is getting ready to apply for a position at the World Wide Wicket Company.

The show is currently in revival on Broadway, in a production starring Daniel Radcliffe as Finch. In the 1995 Broadway production before that, however, the "How to Succeed" number played a much bigger role. There was a reprise of the song at the top of the second act in which the secretaries had their own guide about how to snag a rich executive, showing them to be just as ambitious (in their conventional 1960s way) as Finch. It is heard on the 1995 revival cast album. A sample lyric went: "How to survive as a bride/How to assess all his assets." But it is not used in the new staging. To find out why, we turned to the composer-lyricist's widow Jo Loesser.

"Jo Loesser advises that the lyric was created for the 1995 revival," said Joseph Weiss, general manager of Frank Loesser Enterprises, "and has never been and will not be in the licensed version of the show." Thought Loesser said she did not recall who requested that the new reprise be created, one would imagine it was the director of the 1995 production, Des McAnuff. A call to McAnuff confirmed this. "I knew through Jo Loesser that Frank [Loesser] didn't like 'Cinderella Darling' — the opening song for the second act of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," said McAnuff. "Jo gave me permission to write a reprise of 'How to' for Rosemary and the secretaries, which I wrote with the help of my team. I made it clear to Jo that the estate would retain all rights to this reprise if it should ever prove useful in the future."

Victoria Clark played Smitty, Rosemary's best friend, in that production. "Des wanted that reprise for a number of reasons," she recalled. "Smitty's number from the show, 'Cinderella, Darling,' was cut for the revival, I believe — though you'd have to ask Des — because of possible old-fashioned connotations about women leaving the work-force to catch a man and settle down. Even though it was satire, I love that number.

"Anyway, it was cut in La Jolla before I was involved with the production, so I couldn't stand up for it! So Des wanted something else for Smitty that would organize the secretaries in a little anthem of solidarity for working women. A completely different take about what these ladies would be talking about. We set the scene in the employee cafeteria, the girls seated around the table, venting, dreaming. Throughout our production, the secretaries were strong, independent and professional. I remember this was extremely important to Des and to all of us."

Asked if he ever considered asking to use the reprise in the new Broadway revival, director-choreographer Rob Ashford told Playbill.com, "When I am working on a revival of a musical, I always go back to the original script as a jumping off point. I use that as a source of reference — not other productions. I saw the 1995 production and enjoyed it very much, but felt the 1961 script should be what we based this new revival on."

Victoria Clark (fourth from right) and company in the 1995 revival.
Victoria Clark (fourth from right) and company in the 1995 revival. Photo by Joan Marcus
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