BY SANDY STAGGS
The Shoestring Players at USC Upstate ended their season on a very, very high note – literally 40 stories high (I am guesstimating) – with the office romantic comedy “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” directed by Lee Neibert, head of Theatre and Chair of Fine Arts and Communication Studies.
In the vein of “Mad Men” and rom-coms of the late 1950s and early 60s such as “Lover Come Back” and “Sex and the Single Girl” with a sprinkling of naughtiness, this oldie-but-goodie show by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert – won 7 Tony’s and the 1962 Pulitzer for Drama.
Sophomore Kyle McIntyre nabs his first leading man role as the young, and uber-achiever J. Pierrepont Finch who drops in from the ceiling as a lowly window washer with aspirations of being chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company. Guided by the titular book with voiceover by Dr. Brendan Kelly, Finch climbs the corporate ladder with furtive but playful ruthlessness and a whole lot of suit ass-kissing along the way, as he knocks one guy after another out of a job.
McIntyre is attentive and charming – especially in those in-the-know twinkling freeze frames when he breaks the fourth wall every time he scores points on his journey to the top.
“How to Succeed” is buffeted by some strong performances all around such as the delightful mezzo Kelly Sherrard as Rosemary (“Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” and the affecting “I Believe in You”); and Damion DesLauier at his bumbling finest as Bud Frump, the boss’s arrogant and lazy nincompoop nephew and Finch’s rival; Amiya English (loved the cat glasses) as Smitty, Rosemary’s best friend; Eric Makowski as retiring head of the mailroom Mr. Twimble; an aged John Gibbs as the boss J.B. Biggley; the vivacious Jillian Wain as his mistress Hedy LaRue with no secretarial skills; Kat Powell as executive secretary Miss Jones; Marshall Branham as personnel manager Mr. Bratt; Doug Yates as Mr. Gatch; Xach Urban as Jenkins; and Jordan Montemayor as the receptionist Miss Krumholtz, who delicately rolls her reception stand and chair with such grace that I thought they were on a track for a split second.
This fast-paced romp is witty and irreverent with jokes at every turn from the excellent “Coffee Break” scene when the office workers revolt when the java runs out, to the amusing “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” though the choreography (by Lauren Huffman) resonates, is slightly-disturbing in the #MeToo era as a row of women in the secretarial pool are controlled by their puppet master bosses.
The testosterone-laden boy’s club themed “Brotherhood of Man” was well-orchestrated and balanced by the ladies’ “Cinderella Darling” (about a secretary landing an executive such as Finch).
The lovely “Mad Men” period costumes are by Jennifer Latto and the scenic design by Rich Robinson features city skyline silhouettes/cutouts and an awesome fly-in elevator bank with three moving double doors. Though the skyline cutouts above the side stages were a nice touch, they were under-light and underutilized.
Joy Finch returns as musical director for this one along with Stan Wietrzychowski as assistant music director. Lighting designer is David Edwards and Alyssia Chaplin is Stage Manager.
One minor critique in that while I applaud the team for utilizing video technology instead of employing the traditional live commercial, the video would have worked better with a tighter crop and a different setting than the same scenic setup as the stage.
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” has unfortunately closed but the Shoestring Players have already announced the company’s next season: (ANON)ymous on Oct. 3-6; Avenue Q on Nov. 21-24; Tuna Christmas on December 13-14; Voices to Hear on Feb. 14-15; and The Three Sisters on April 2-5. And don’t miss the Golden Shoe Awards April 28 @ 7:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center at USC Upstate. More info is available at http://www.uscupstate.edu/theatre.