AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert
Directed by Jay Manley
Presented by Foothill Music Theatre
Smithwick Theatre
Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, CA / (650) 949-7360

Reviewed by Judy Richter

A young man who's already up in the blue collar world as a window washer aspires to get up the white collar world as an executive. To do so, he follows the steps outlined in a self-help book that's also the name of the hit musical comedy presented by Foothill Music Theatre.

"How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" follows the adventures of J. Pierrepont Finch, or Ponty (Michael Rhone), as he lands a mailroom job at World Wide Wickets, overcomes efforts to stop him, ascends to the very top of the corporate ladder and finds love along the way. And along the way, the audience can enjoy a slew of hummable songs by composer-lyricist Frank Loesser and laugh at all the characters and situations in the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert.

The genius of this show is that even though it was premiered as a satire of corporate life in 1961, it stands the test of time as a satirical look back at when workplace sexism was a given. Political correctness has changed some corporate cultures, but today's headlines reveal that the message hasn't gotten through to everyone. Perhaps that explains some of the success of today's hit TV show "Mad Men," set in a 1960s advertising firm.

But back to Ponty. By dint of learning what's important to the higher-ups and whom to enlist as allies, he moves steadily upward and overcomes obstacles thrown in his path, chiefly by Bud Frump (David Mister), the boss's incompetent, weaselly nephew. He also finds true love with a secretary, Rosemary Pilkington (Corrie Lenn Borris).

Even though no one in the large FMT cast is professional (e.g. member of Actors Equity), director Jay Manley elicits topnotch performances from both the principals and everyone else in the ensemble of students and area residents. Rhone is an appealingly boyish Ponty, a man eager to get ahead through various means. He sings well, as illustrated in songs like "I Believe in You" and "Rosemary." He dances, too, (choreography by Dottie Lester-White). He pairs well with Borris as Rosemary. Borris also sings well and has a strong stage presence.

Other principals aren't quite the singers that Rhone and Borris are, but they're terrific character actors, led by Mister as Bud Frump and Walter M. Mayes as the pompous, blustery J.B. Biggley, Bud's uncle and the company's CEO. Also noteworthy are Katie O'Bryon as Smitty, Rosemary's wisecracking pal; Linda Piccone as Miss Jones, Biggley's secretary; and Sarah Griner as Hedy La Rue, Biggley's beautiful but air-headed paramour. Jon Miller, radio voice of baseball's San Francisco Giants, provides the voice for the book that Ponty consults every so often.

Making noteworthy contributions to the production are musical director Catherine Snider and the orchestra, scenic designer Joe Ragey, costume designer Janis Bergmann and lighting designer Kurt Landisman.

The Smithwick Theatre, where FMT traditionally presents its summer shows, was closed for renovations last year, requiring a move to the smaller, newer Lohman Theatre, home of FMT's winter shows. Now the Smithwick has reopened, boasting, among other improvements, air conditioning and better acoustics and lighting. FMT also has posted helpful directional signs to the theater from the parking lots and to additional restrooms.

It all adds up to a highly enjoyable theatrical experience -- highly recommended.

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