Now that he's one and twenty, Daniel Radcliffe has set aside childish things — Harry Potter wands, et al — and created some man-made theatre magic through sheer will, sweat and art as the crafty little corporation-climber in How To Succeed in Business Without Trying, which opened March 27 at the Hirschfeld.
J. Pierrepont Finch is his name — a properly imperious moniker for the occasion. He's a window-cleaner by trade, and, in the two-and-a-half hours it takes to get there, he scales the heights of big business from inside the building, using every slippery trick in the book (the book being Shepherd Mead's straight-ahead satiric how-to tome of 1952, "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," which Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert freely (!) adapted into a Pulitzer Prize-winning fun-poke and Tony-winning musical nine years later).
Since corporate two-faces still come in assorted sizes, shapes and ages, Radcliffe is a worthy, thoroughly plausible addition to the "Brotherhood of Man," a roof-raising finale that brings crowds to their feet cheering, charmed and completely convinced.
"Oh, my God! He's a dancer!" squealed a delighted Michele Lee from behind me at the theatre. "I didn't know he could do that — and they saved it. In that mailroom number ["The Company Way"], you could tell he could dance, but it was kinda low-keyed so they could bring him on so spectacularly in 'Brotherhood of Man.' I must say, Rob Ashford has choreographed and staged this show bril-liant-ly. Major! Major! I just absolutely love what they have done with the material."
She spoke with a certain amount of authority, having played Finch's secretary sweetheart, Rosemary Pillkington, in the original Broadway production (she was a replacement) and reprised the part in the 1967 movie, opposite Tony-winning Robert Morse.
For her, it was a sentimental one-block journey south from the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers) where the show premiered in 1961. If you tried to ask her, "Did you — ?," she would cut you off with: "Yeah, I did. When Daniel started singing 'Rosemary,' I began to tear up — but that was the only time I cried. I just have such incredible, warm memories of that time. It was the beginning of my whole career. I was just so green, and Bobby Morse helped me so much. When we'd get to intermission, Bobby would take me back in his dressing room and give me notes. 'Do this' and 'do that', and you know what? I loved it so much, and I loved him so much, that I absorbed everything I heard from him — and I absorbed everything I saw. It was like going to school. It really was. And Bobby Morse and I are still friends."
Another first-nighting novice who succeeded with Business was John Stamos, who replaced Tony-winning Matthew Broderick in the previous Broadway revival of the show in 1995. "It was my first Broadway show, and I've fond memories of the experience," he said.
Yet another former Finch on the loose on opening night was song-and-dance veteran Harvey Evans. "I did it in stock — at the Melody Top in Milwaukee," he recalled. "I was Finch, and Van Johnson was the big boss, J. B. Biggley." The new revival thrilled him, too: "How Rob Ashford can take an old show and make something fresh out of it is genius. I know the big surprise was Daniel Radcliffe, and Rob was so smart to leave the big dance number till the end of the show. You didn't know it was going to happen. He just builds and builds till the audience screams!"
David Hyde Pierce, who did the Biggley role in the reading with Radcliffe and was considering the role until he decided to call it a season with La Bete, entered the Hirschfeld theatre with a spring in his step. "I'm now going to relax and watch," he announced. "I love this theatre. I loved acting in it, and I love watching shows in it." (It was here he did Tony-winning work in Curtains.)
It's also a good luck theatre for Liza Minnelli, who got a Tony nomination out of The Rink. Looking snazzy in pink, she was asked her favorite How to Succeed number and immediately broke, a cappella, into "I Believe in You." (She does, too.) "I like all the songs," she said. "It's is one of my favorite shows, ever."
Considering the heady rungs of big business reached, and the Potter pedigree involved, the producers decreed it a black-tie event and splashed their afterparty over three floors of The Plaza Hotel. Everybody looked elegant — and blissed out.
The press activity was confined to the second lobby beyond the Plaza entrance. Here, the performers and creatives ran a flash-popping gamut of print, TV and radio. The scene was sorta déjà vu for director-choreographer Ashford and his lead producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who had held their Promises, Promises bash in the same sumptuous, gold-leaf surroundings.
"Technically, we've been working on this since 2009," admitted Meron, "but, frankly, I've been working on it my whole life because it's the first musical I ever saw. I didn't know Craig at the time, but it's also the first Broadway musical he ever saw. The stars aligned, and this is kind of a look back at where it all began for both of us."
Zadan was positively beaming about the way the Radcliffe "Brotherhood" sends the audience out into the night. "A year-and-a-half ago he'd never sung or danced. When he decided to do this, he literally spent 17 hours a week training to sing and dance. What's the most interesting part of that number is that Daniel's actually doing all the steps that the dancers are doing. Usually, when it's a star, they give him the easy steps, and the dancers do the hard steps behind him. Daniel's doing everything they're doing. He said, 'I don't want to do an easy version of it. I want you to give me the hardest version of this I can have, and I'm going to learn it.'"
Next up for Zadan and Meron is happening currently: "We're shooting right now 'Smash,' which is the Steven Spielberg pilot for NBC about the creation of a Broadway musical. We're filming all over New York City. Theresa Rebeck wrote it, and Michael Mayer is directing it. We shoot another ten days, and then, if it goes to series, we'll shoot all the episodes here in New York." Debra Messing and Angelica Huston co-star as a lyricist and a producer. The cast includes Christian Borle, Jack Davenport, Katharine McPhee, Megan Hilty and scads of New York theatre actors.
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