“How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” at Al Hirschfeld Theatre

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Al Hirschfeld Theatre, NYC


This 50th anniversary revival sparkles, and not only because of the confidence of its lead Daniel Radcliffe. In a stroke of genius, as his eponymous Harry Potter chronicles wind down, Radcliffe expands his thespian wings as an accomplished song and dance man.  No stranger to the boards, he garnered accolades in a far more serious role in London and Broadway in Equus. But now in NYC he is leaving his clothes on and the crowd fully satisfied in a colorful, boisterous and delightful musical.

Although the show runs long, it is a delight for the eyes and ears.  Radcliffe plays the young upstart J. Pierrepont Finch, hoping to follow the paint-by-numbers blueprint for a rise up the corporate ladder.  With voiceover narration (by Anderson Cooper) from the 1952 book of the same name, Finch stumbles upward with pluck and a mostly pure heart. Along the way, he becomes enamored of Rosemary, a secretary with the goal of a husband and a home in New Rochelle.  This being a musical, the gal gets the guy and all is well in the end.

John Larroquette makes his Broadway debut as JB Biggley, head of the company through which Finch rises.  Larroquette’s comedic timing (honed for years on TV’s Night Court) is pitch perfect.  Indeed, the night I attended he slipped in a reference to an earthquake drill, a timely reminder of the tremblor a few hours earlier.


The 1995 revival was directed by the fearless Des McAnuff and featured Matthew Broderick, an accomplished musical veteran, but the current version seems more timeless.  Perhaps it is now the broader awareness of the early 1960s era in which the musical is set, due in no small part to Mad Men.  Indeed, the musical’s femme fatale Hedy LaRue (cleverly assayed by Tammy Blanchard) is more than reminiscent of that series’ buxom, raven-haired Joan.  Derek McLane’s colorful scenic design is awash in pastels and iconic hexagons. Catherine Zuber’s costumes and Howell Binkley’s lighting design evoke the time period effortlessly.

The supporting cast is vibrant, performing with aplomb the amazing choreography by director Rob Ashford.  But it is the Pulitzer Prize – winning music and lyrics of Frank Loesser that delight the audience.  Ranging from the sentimental “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” to the cautionary “A Secretary is Not a Toy” to the satiric “Grand Old Ivy,” the songs drive the story along delightfully.

Even if some gentle pruning would trim the running time of the production, the audience would lose the opportunity to see the well-oiled cast in action.  In this economic climate, the fairy tale of scooting up the corporate ladder appeals.  From the play’s opening moment when Finch the window washer is hoisted from the orchestra pit to the final curtain call, Radcliffe and his stellar cast leave the audience well-satisfied. 

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.