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Players all business in peppy ‘How to Succeed’ PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff   
Friday, 15 February 2013 11:05
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Michael Barlos and Alisha Bond in ‘How to Succeed’ (Photo: Shane Hughes/Sentinel-Tribune)
Given the popularity of the TV drama “Mad Men,” it’s interesting to see a much earlier, and lighter look at the buttoned-down business culture of the 1950s.
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” hit Broadway while the 1950s were still warm. And while some of its attitudes, even after a contemporary makeover, still seem antiquarian, it remains a lively piece of fluff.
The Black Swamp Players bring a rousing version of the Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser musical to the stage of the First United Methodist Church this weekend and next.
The show, based on a satirical self-help book, finds J. Pierpont Finch (Michael Barlos) as a window washer on the make, darting up the corporate ladder with little more than pluck and duplicity. He finds fortune and love, and the audience finds toe-tapping song and good times.
Barlos plays Finch more as an innocent charmer than a charismatic schemer. Director Kathy Barnes stages his big number, and one of the great theater songs, “I Believe in You,” without having Finch staring into a mirror. That mutes the self-absorption of the lyrics.  
And Barlos’ character is vividly contrasted with Bob Marzola’s broad, scene-stealing portrayal of Finch’s rival Bud, the company president Biggley’s nephew. He’s full of comic gesticulation, and eye-rolling backbiting. He’s Biggley’s nephew and doesn’t hesitate to pull family ties to get his way.
While the relations between the male executives and female secretarial pool are dated beyond repair, the anthem “The Company Way” maintains a bite in a time when many still deify corporate culture.
Biggley’s role is handled ably by Players’ veteran Guy Zimmerman. Biggley is as vacuous as he is pompous, bumbling yet sure of himself, and therefore a perfect mark for the scheming Finch.
The heart of the show is Rosemary (Alisha Bond). Bond connects with the audience with a sure, warm touch as she dreams of being that housewife in New Rochelle. She’s so heartfelt that I couldn’t help but wish something more for her.
Indeed for a show where women are cast as second fiddles, “How to Succeed” is lifted by strong performances from actresses.  Rhianon Cowden as Smitty can belt, and brings an earthy charm to her role. Susannah Lock invests Miss Jones, Biggley’s secretary, with intelligence and compassion. It’s a role that exists primarily to move the plot along, but Lock shows us enough of the talents of this career “girl,” that you know she should be running the firm.
On the other end of the spectrum is Biggley’s squeeze Hedy (Kaileigh Buckley), a high-spirited scamp, who has a nose for how to get ahead and the legs to carry her there.
The show relies on the chorus to deliver on its big song and dance numbers. With Barnes’ direction and Marzola’s always creative choreography the cast of dozens shines. I always like to look at the faces of the chorus as they stomp through something like “Coffee Break,” and catch how each member is expressing the number’s emotion — in this case desperation. Yeah they have to execute the dance steps, remember the words and sing in tune, but they all stay in character.
The high-stepping energy of these chorus numbers defy the limitations of the church’s stage, and are sure to rouse the audience.
 

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