Players all business in peppy ‘How to Succeed’

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 amuch earlier, and lighter look at the buttoned-down business
culture ofthe 1950s.“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” hit Broadway whilethe 1950s were
still warm. And while some of its attitudes, even after acontemporary makeover, still seem antiquarian, it
remains a livelypiece of fluff.The Black Swamp Players bring a rousing version of the Abe Burrows andFrank
Loesser musical to the stage of the First United Methodist Churchthis weekend and next.The show, based on a
satirical self-help book,finds J. Pierpont Finch (Michael Barlos) as a window washer on themake, darting up
the corporate ladder with little more than pluck andduplicity. He finds fortune and love, and the audience
finds toe-tappingsong and good times.Barlos plays Finch more as an innocent charmer than a
charismaticschemer. Director Kathy Barnes stages his big number, and one of thegreat theater songs, “I
Believe in You,” without having Finch staringinto 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 presidentBiggley’s nephew. He’s full of comic gesticulation, and eye-rollingbackbiting.
He’s Biggley’s nephew and doesn’t hesitate to pull familyties to get his way.While the relations between the
male executives and female secretarialpool are dated beyond repair, the anthem “The Company Way” maintains
abite in a time when many still deify corporate culture.Biggley’srole is handled ably by Players’ veteran
Guy Zimmerman. Biggley is asvacuous as he is pompous, bumbling yet sure of himself, and therefore aperfect
mark for the scheming Finch.The heart of the show is Rosemary (Alisha Bond). Bond connects with theaudience
with a sure, warm touch as she dreams of being that housewifein New Rochelle. She’s so heartfelt that I
couldn’t help but wishsomething more for her.Indeed for a show where women are cast as second fiddles, “How
toSucceed” is lifted by strong performances from actresses. RhianonCowden as Smitty can belt, and brings an
earthy charm to her role.Susannah Lock invests Miss Jones, Biggley’s secretary, with intelligenceand
compassion. It’s a role that exists primarily to move the plotalong, 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 (KaileighBuckley), a high-spirited scamp, who has a nose for how to get ahead andthe
legs to carry her there.The show relies on the chorus todeliver on its big song and dance numbers. With
Barnes’ direction andMarzola’s always creative choreography the cast of dozens shines. Ialways like to look
at the faces of the chorus as they stomp throughsomething like “Coffee Break,” and catch how each member is
expressingthe number’s emotion — in this case desperation. Yeah they have toexecute the dance steps,
remember the words and sing in tune, but theyall 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.