J. Pierrepont Finch doesn’t set out to start his career as a smarmy little weasel. And the great thing about Finch is that, for a guy who climbs the corporate ladder in the most deceitful of ways, he still comes off as terribly likeable.
You can credit that to actor Kyle Stoner, who is featured in a delightful production of the Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the inaugural production from Bay Area Musicals. While there was some imbalance in the execution, there are plenty of strong performances on the Marines Memorial Theatre Stage.
The story follows the exploits of the aforementioned Finch, who starts his corporate climb as a window-washer at the World Wide Wicket company. There is where he meets up with personnel manager Mr. Bratt (Matt Ono), lies about being sent for a job by company president J.B. Biggley (Kirk Johnson) and finds his nemesis in the form of nepotism beneficiary Bud Frump (Brendon North), Biggley’s conniving nephew.
Other colorful characters include wide-eyed secretary Rosemary Pingleton (Chloe Condon), Miss Jones (Nikki Arias) and Biggley’s secret mistress Hedy Larue (Mary Kalita).
The strength of the production is really in the joyous moments that exist, with a nice amount of strong yet gentle principal performances. Much of what makes Stoner effective are his disarming eyes. A nice technical touch came from any discovery he made, which led him to a new rung of his corporate ladder.
One of the most effective components to the productions was the very nice grasp of the stylistic challenges of a production that premiered in 1961. It is a relic of musical theatre’s past, with plenty of moments that are both silly and irreverent. Director Matthew McCoy has placed many nice fingerprints on the production, and moves his piece well on Brian Watson’s sharp, suggestive set.
Vocally, the production is plentiful, with a pleasant collection of voices spearheaded by music director Jon Gallo. Lots of nice blending, especially in act two, took hold. “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” is tender, sung with warm discovery by Condon. “Been a Long Day” and its reprise are an ode to the skill of Loesser and his witty and snappy lyrics, sung to great effect. And “Grand Old Ivy,” that secret handshake type number that Ivy League types might engage in behind a corporate door is fun and all-out goofy.
Bigger production numbers were also nicely delivered, numbers like “Brotherhood of Man,” one of the show’s signature songs.
Some of the best moments of the show were not necessarily about the music, but about the characters. One of the strongest performances comes from Michael Cabanlit, who exudes energy and commitment. He is particularly funny, stealing many scenes, including a moment in the mail room which is all kinds of hilarious.
Where the show loses its effect is in its tightness. Ends of songs have moments that require a tight finish and unity amongst all elements, technical and otherwise. In many instances, a good number of those were not particularly sharp. Where finishes needed to be big, too often these conclusions left something to be desired. There is also an imbalance from the two acts, with act one not feeling as sharp as the second.
There is no doubt that “How to Succeed” is a daunting task for any company, let alone a brand new company in their very first production. And there are certainly elements that can be improved upon, which is the case for any company really. As evidenced by their inaugural production, there is seemingly a solid base for sustainability. While not always spectacular, it was often solid, and certainly entertaining.
While passion alone will not take Bay Area Musicals to the next level, this production is one that shows they are headed in the right direction.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Bay Area Musicals presents “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert
Based on book by Shepherd Mead
The Word: Not a spectacular production, but certainly a solid one from fledgling Bay Area Musicals.
Stars: 3 out of 5
Through Dec. 19th
The Marines Memorial Theatre
609 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $30 – $76
For tickets, call (415) 340-2207 or visit www.bamsf.org