PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying — Succeeding By Really Trying
By Harry Haun
Meet the first-nighters at the opening night of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
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.
Ashford said his biggest hurdle with this project was the same that all revivals face — the memories of previous productions. "Every time you do a revival, I think there are always expectations, always comparisons. It's just about being true to what you want to do with it and not use what someone else did with it as a starting point."
Loesser's final Broadway score was definitely a leg-up for Ashford. "I love the score. We tried not to fool with it much, be very true to the score and serve it up well."
Also, of course, Radcliffe was a complete asset. "He's something to showcase. I did know he could sing well. I knew he was a good actor, and my gut said he could dance. My gut was right. It's great that the audience responds the way they do every night. They love that last number. Dan loves that number. The guys love doing it. It's thrilling — the 11 o'clock number — and, if it lands like that, you're home free, right?"
One bit business in the choreography he takes no credit for — the Tom Cruise-in-love couch-bounce. "That was kinda Dan's idea, but I liked it and decided to use it."
It's a tad premature for Radcliffe to take any bows for choreographic moves. It's enough he mastered the steps at hand — and master it he did, thanks to a slight head-start. "They taught them to me so I had them a little bit in advance before I came into rehearsal," he admitted. "Well, some of them — obviously, a lot changed.
"When I wasn't working, I'd do nine hours a week of dance in London. When I was working, I'd do three on my day off. I've been taking singing lessons for three years. I love my singing teacher and my dance teacher. I should probably give a shout-out to Mark Meylan and Spencer Soloman — they're both fantastic."
Arriving at the top of his game was important to Radcliffe. "It's a fantastic show, and I'm loving working with such a high-caliber of people." Yes, he said, "Brotherhood of Man" is every bit as much fun to dance as it is to watch. It's the whole show that I love, but that moment at the end is the absolute highlight for me."
This is the second Tony-winning show that Radcliffe has picked to revive on Broadway to counterpoint, if not puncture, his Harry Potter persona. (Equus was the other extreme against-type example.) "That he was not Harry Potter was one of the reasons I wanted to do Finch — and that he's so shamelessly ambitious, so much fun to play. It really is a great treat to be able to play him."
It may be Radcliffe's musical-theatre debut, but it's the Broadway debut of both his top co-stars, Rose Hemingway as his girlfriend, Rosemary, and John Larroquette, as J. B. Biggley, the Mr. Big with whom he conspires to curry favor.
She's young, fresh-faced and just off the boat so there's a logic to her making the Main Stem leap now, but there's no excuse for Larroquette, with his four Emmys for "Night Court," to make such a belated Broadway bow.
"Persistence, I guess," is the way he explains how he finally got here. "I wanted to do it. I started asking people about doing it, and then I was offered this. Here I am."
His towering hulk over the diminutive Radcliffe makes a comic Mutt & Jeff spectacle. "I love the size difference," producer Candy Spelling cooed. "The whole thing is so cute. It really works on stage."
La Hemingway admitted she felt a little rattled about being, suddenly, a Broadway actress: "I can't believe it. I feel very lucky, very blessed. There's something shiny and new and exciting about it all." I explained that she made something vibrant out of a potentially vanilla role. "I didn't want her to be your plastic ingénue or boring. It's written in the show that she's really smart and driven. If you look for it, her story parallels Finch's in a lot of ways. She knows she wants to be like him. I think it's important that that part of her character gets out. She's independent and strong-willed and knows what she wants. It happens to be Finch."
She had received praise from Calpurnia (i.e., Michele Lee) and was still fairly glowing. "She was really kind to me. She said she loved the whole performance."
A roly-poly Gleason-like character actor, Rob Bartlett, rises even faster in the organization than Radcliffe, but it takes him two roles to do it — Mr. Twimble, head of the mail room, and Wally Womper, chairman of the board: "It's such an exhilarating experience, but, when you love what you're doing, you're doing it for love. It's the hardest work I've ever done, and I can't wait to go to work every day."
The evening's slam-dunk performance was delivered by Tammy Blanchard as Hedy La Rue, a hip-waving, thoroughly self-aware tart sinking in the secretarial pool while splashing around in the corridors of power. "You don't judge a book by its cover, and that's what my Hedy is based on," Blanchard relayed. "The women in my family are pretty strong. Sometimes they put on a show, and you may think you don't know what's going on, but they know. That's what I love about Hedy. She's very strong, but you could easily judge her the wrong way from the get-go." Opening night was special to her: "I'm so honored because I feel like this audience tonight is the business — the industry — and for them to show me that kind of love means a lot to me. Tonight was the night for me to feel respected — and it was."
Bud Frump, Finch's nemesis and Biggley's nephew, gives Christopher J. Hanke a chance to play the ultimate extension of the clean-cut conniver he played for Ashford's Cry-Baby. "I like that I have discovered him throughout the previews," he said. "I knew what was going on, but every day I would come up with something. Like, 'Oh, he's that,' or 'Oh, he feels that way.' A show that you're with for a long time, when you get to the stage here in New York, you kinda know what's going on, but this has unfolded day after day, and I loved that."
Michael Park was surprised to be playing the most conspicuous suit on the corporate ladder. "That's somebody thinking outside the box," he proffered. "It's usually an older role, but thankfully Rob saw it a different way, and I'm here, and I'm having such a good time walking on stage every single night I feel guilty getting paid." All that, he gets to do his best dancing since Smokey Joe's Café and his striptease for Faith Prince in Little Me ("I've Got Your Number").
Smitty and Miss Jones among the secretaries (Mary Faber and Ellen Harvey) share the same favorite moment: "'Brotherhood of Man,'" said Faber, "when they're just bringing it home. That is the best. Everyone loves that one." Adds Harvey: "It is always as much fun for the audience as it was tonight. Sometimes, even more so. Sometimes, it's downright deafening — and really such fun to do."
Record producer Robert Sher said he plans to do the original cast recording April 10 and 11 at Manhattan Center. "We'll release it on June 6 on Decca Broadway."
Sara Ramirez, the Tony-winning Lady of the Lake from Spamalot, arrived on opening night with some recording news as well: "My first EP was released on iTunes today. It's four songs, three of which I co-wrote with Rob Giles and Michael Pemberton. The fourth song is called 'The Story,' and it's a song my character sings this Thursday night on 'Grey's Anatomy.'"
Producer-writer George Stevens Jr., whose Thurgood with Tony nominee Laurence Fishburne debuted on cable for Black History month, noted a rush of clips from his dad's movies hitting the TV screens this weekend in tribute to Elizabeth Taylor. Stevens Sr. won his two Oscars directing her. "She was 18 when she did 'A Place in the Sun' and 23 when she did 'Giant,'" recalled the son.
"Working just extended in Chicago," said its director, Gordon Greenberg, "and there are new plans for it involving New York and the rest of the U.S." Jed Bernstein has his fingers on this.
Leading the list of people who had to be there on opening night were Bernadette Peters (Blanchard was her Tony-nominated Gypsy Rose Lee); Adam Duritz; director Garry Marshall; Caroline, Or Change's Tony winner Anika Noni Rose; Anything Goes's Robert Creighton (Purser ordinarily, "today I was Moonface for the first time," going on for Joel Grey); Light in the Piazza composer Adam Guettel; and Wicked's Stephen Schwartz (making operatic waves at the Koch with Séance on a Wet Afternoon April 19-May 1).
Also present: Elaine Joyce (Robert Morse's co-star in Sugar) and her husband, Neil Simon, a playwright always welcome at The Plaza after Plaza Suite; Phil Donahue and Marlo Thomas; director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall and producer Scott Landis; jazz giant John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey; Red's Tony-winning director, Michael Grandage, and author, John Logan; and Sarah Glendening and Brandon Wardell.
And last but not least: Rachel York; Tom Hulce; Spencer Liff; Mike Doyle; Matt McGrath; Raza Jaffrey; Lisa Howard; Victor Garber; and Claudia Shear .
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