Thursday 21 May 2015

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - Review

Royal Festival Hall, London


Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert
Directed by Jonathan Butterell

Clarke Peters (l) and Jonathan Groff in rehearsal

There must be something in the Thames as it flows around the bend of Waterloo Bridge that enchants the work of Frank Loesser. Back in the 1980s the National Theatre gave the capital a groundbreaking Guys and Dolls and yesterday, for one night only, Jonathan Butterell directed a sensational production of Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying (almost) next door at the Royal Festival Hall.

It’s been fifty years since How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying last popped up in the West End and Butterell was blessed with a star-studded cast to perform this concert staging. In a story that is occasionally heavy on a complex narrative, the show set in the offices of the World Wide Wicket company takes us on a whirlwind tour of ladder-climbing both literal and metaphorical, as we watch “the rise” of window cleaner J. Pierrepont Finch and his studious devotion to a self-help book on business success. In today’s parlance the show would represent a mash-up of The Office with The Apprentice and all set to show-tunes of a deliciously cheesy improbability. 

Crossing the Atlantic to play Finch, Jonathan Groff is probably best known here for his time on the US TV series Glee. Make no mistake though, Groff has serious stage credentials, with spurs earned both on and off-Broadway and stellar vocals that make Finch the true hero of the piece. It should also be noted that given the very  limited rehearsal time available, his performance oozed a charming confidence that forgave his occasional glances at the script.

Cynthia Erivo and Hannah Waddingham made for Finch’s vibrantly intriguing colleagues. As love interest Rosemary, Erivo brought a warmth and sincerity to her vocals that truly allowed us to understand her desires beyond the office walls whilst Waddingham’s Hedy La Rue brought another aspect of sexual desire to the tale in a role as perfect to listen to as to gaze upon. 

Making a rare and welcome return to a London stage, Clarke Peters’company President J.B Biggley provided a strong backbone to the office set up. Elsewhere Clive Rowe as Trimble was as ever delightful in his fleeting appearances, with Rowe’s soaring vocals lending a massive contribution, not least to the glorious ensemble numbers Company Way and Brotherhood Of Man. In another neat touch, London's Loesser cognoscenti will have noted that both Peters and Rowe include the National’s Guys and Dolls in their biographies

A nod too to Amy Ellen Richardson as Smitty and Anna-Jane Casey’s Miss Jones, who both brought quirk and charm to the office table on top of their stunning stage presence. 

Loesser’s luscious and vibrant score, boasting many forgotten and understated classics, was expertly executed under Mike Dixon conducting the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. It is a treat to hear a classic score so excitingly pitched and performed at that by a full size orchestra too.

The company’s excellence left one longing for a fully staged return of this charming old show and with such a remarkable array of talent and so finely polished too, Butterell certainly showed how to succeed in musical theatre!

Picture credit: Poppy Carter Portraits at

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