Review – How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Mar 21 2013 | By More

★★☆☆☆ Cartoonish capers come awry

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 19- Sat 23 March, 2013

Frothy, frivolous and fun, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a wryly comic look at the treadmill of big corporate enterprise in post war America.

First staged in 1961, Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics are considered to come only second to his work on Guys and Dolls. It’s packed with cartoonish characters and up-tempo – if instantly disposable – tunes. And it is all based on Shepherd Mead’s 1952 novel of the same name.

Adam Pringle (Finch) and Josephine Heinemeier (Hedy LaRue). Photo: Alan Potter/Edinburgh Music Theatre

Adam Pringle (Finch) and Josephine Heinemeier (Hedy LaRue). Photo: Alan Potter/Edinburgh Music Theatre

When it comes to the music, Edinburgh Music Theatre get it pretty much spot on in their production of the show, which is at the Church Hill Theatre until Saturday.

It’s in the delivery of the theatre part of the equation where the company come awry.

Which is something of a shock as, besides the music, so much of the show is brilliant. Not least its big concept: of presenting its succession of two-dimensional characters within a cartoon set and with two-dimensional cartoon props.

The plot is simple. Pierrepont Finch is a window cleaner who picks up a copy of the titular book. It provides him with the techniques to climb the corporate ladder without doing any of the things which normal executives do, such as being knowledgeable about their jobs or stabbing people in the back.

Bumping into the boss, literally, he is soon hired, acquires a J to go in front of his name, a doting girlfriend – or at least a fan-girl who recognises his talents in upward mobility – and an arch nemesis in the form of the boss’s lazy nephew.

It’s only a matter of being nice and obeying the book, which he consults at every turn, and he is soon climbing right to the top of the corporation.

There are some strong performances in here too. Both in vocal terms and in  terms of creating character.

Adam Pringle is nicely naive and upright as J Pierrepont Finch. He is charming to those above him on his way up, but totally ignores the secretary Rosemary who is completely besotted with him. Pringle makes it unwitting, rather than callous, though. As being callous is not what his character is about at all.

A secret passion for knitting and a cigarette girl named Hedy LaRue

It’s very much Finch’s show. But around him, the supporting cast put in good work too. Kenneth Pinkerton strolls the role of J.B.Biggley, the CEO with a secret passion for knitting and a cigarette girl named Hedy LaRue. David Doherty oozes stupidity and meanness as Biggley’s nephew, Bud Frump.

Adam Scott Pringle, Kenneth Pinkerton and cheerleaders. Photo: R. Adam/Edinburgh Music Theatre

Adam Scott Pringle, Kenneth Pinkerton and cheerleaders. Photo: R. Adam/Edinburgh Music Theatre

Emily Goad has fun with her voice modulation as Rosemary, who goes from squawking secretary to husky-voiced seductress as soon as she sets eyes on him. Josephine Heinemeier is a towering presence as sex-pot Hedy LaRue. Her height is one of the more canny pieces of casting, with an extra four inch stiletto-heel her chest is on the eye-level of most of the male characters.

Ironically, given the way the show fits the pre-feminist ideas of its day with the  men doing all the work and the women Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm – as Rosemary sings of Finch – the secretaries have all the best smaller roles.

Julia More is a standout as Biggley’s own secretary. Caroline Hood gives a deep huskiness to Miss Krumholtz – another secretary with hidden depths. And Cavell Knowles pops up with slightly scornful but supportive comments as Rosemary’s best pal, Smitty.

Indeed, when it comes to the chorus, the secretaries are superb. There’s a truly brilliant moment right at the start of the show: none of the tedious blokes are around and the whole female chorus perform a unison tap typing routine. It is brilliantly choreographed by Susan Harvey and delivered with real sharpness by the company.

But sharpness is what the between-song sections lack. This should be big, bold pantomime-style stuff to go with the big bold design concept, but director Michael Richardson has somehow not instilled any urgency in his cast.

So that, even though many elements of the production are strong, much of the evening is tortuous to contemplate. Even with David Black’s splendid costume design to distract the eye, what happens, happens so slowly you could be pouring treacle not the fizzy pop the show demands.

And when a song eventually arrives, it doesn’t fit neatly into the dialogue but there is a wait while the music gets into synch. As a consequence, the whole thing is easily 20 minutes – maybe even half an hour – too long.

Black’s costumes really are very good indeed, throughout. A highlight is the rather stunning Paris Original – which Rosemary puts on during the song of that name to try and seduce Finch at the office party. Only for every single secretary to turn up in the same outfit.

It’s elements like this and the tap dancing routines – although there could be more of them – that give individual elements of the show a four-star appeal. It’s just that lack of pace that drops the overall experience right back down. Yes, it is a fair attempt, but it is well within EMT’s capabilities to do much, much better.

Running time 3 hours.
Run ends Sunday 23 March.
Further details on Edinburgh Music Theatre website:


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  1. Susan Wales says:

    Can’t disagree. 🙂