WIlton’s Music Hall, London – until 22 April 2017
I had high hopes for this first-full-London-staging-in-50-years production of How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying whose 2011 Broadway revival was a surprise hit for Daniel Radcliffe as the window-washer who climbs the greasy corporate pole, but – apart from the quirky charisma of Marc Pickering in the same role – they were dashed by uneven directing, clunky choreography, clumsy set, and a hot but muffled band that leaves even Frank Loesser’s glorious score feeling short-changed.
Benji Sperring has crafted a weak and witless production which doesn’t understand that in 1961 it was already a parody and needn’t be further cartooned with cardboard scenery and rampant overacting.
There are two dozen named characters in the script, and having them impersonated by two older men and eight recent stage school graduates would be tough under any circumstances but here further hampered by an appalling set that just doesn’t function, relentless furniture shifting with all the smooth finesse of the chimps in the PG Tea advert, and a cheapskate costume budget – you can tell a production’s hard up when instead of a proper cinch-waisted belt it gives the leading actress a bit of ribbon and hopes she never breathes out.
Rob Marshall’s New York production had sensational choreography you couldn’t hope to replicate on the Wilton’s stage with its unavoidable flight of four steps across the whole acting area, but the dancing is uninspired and you can’t do justice to a big production number like ‘Brotherhood of Man’ by populating it with only six men to represent the whole of corporate America.
Playing company boss J B Biggley, Olivier nominee Andrew C Wadsworth – an actor whose voice I’ve admired since I first saw him as the ‘posh’ twin in Blood Brothers in 1983 – is extremely capable and could carry the role in the West End, but looks as uncomfortably out of place here as a headmaster in a school play.
As the chirpy secretary ‘Smitty’ Geri Allen gets closest to the mood of the original, and has great clarity of diction and projection. She might make a better foil for Pickering’s Ponty which is refreshingly differentiated from Radcliffe or Robert Morse in the movie: he’s both more oily and more transparently dishonest, and seems to eyeball the audience as accomplices rather like Alan Cumming, which suits this interpretation. He has a better singing voice than Radcliffe, too.
Wilton’s Music Hall is a great space if you exploit it properly, but not this time.