'How to Succeed' in a mad world
But the actors love that world — and the singing and dancing within it
CHAMPAIGN — Viewed through a modern lens, the Broadway hit musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is chauvinistic and offensive.
"We call it 'Mad Men: The Musical' in terms of its sensibility and the way the world works in it," said Ray Essick, who plays Bud Frump, a nephew of J.B. Biggley, the boss of the World Wide Wicket Co., in the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company production opening Thursday night.
But that doesn't mean Essick and other cast members don't like the musical, a satire of big business.
They love it and call it a lot of fun. The same team that wrote the hit musical "Guys and Dolls" created "How to Succeed," based on Shepherd Mead's 1952 book "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: The Dastard's Guide to Fame and Fortune."
The story in the musical revolves around young, ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch, who with the help of the book rises from window washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Co.
Matt Fear of Urbana, who plays Finch, was unfamiliar with the musical before he auditioned for it. Before he was told he had Finch's part, he read the characters' lines, listened to the soundtrack and watched the movie version of the show. As a result, he fell in love with it.
"I just think Finch is such a fun character," Fear said before rehearsal Monday night at the Parkland Theatre. "He's such a butt-kisser. You don't want to like him, but as the show goes on you can't help but like him.
"Finch's charm really sold it for me."
Biggley the boss also falls for Finch. David Laker of Fithian plays Biggley; decades ago Laker played Finch in a Danville Light Opera production of "How to Succeed."
Laker describes Biggley as a toothless shark who's made it to the top but has forgotten what it was like to be on the bottom or in the middle.
"He's enjoying all the trappings of success," including a mistress, Hedy La Rue, who is portrayed by Jenny Gleason of Champaign.
Fear and other cast members said "How to Succeed" has a good balance of song and dialogue. Directing the music is Andy Hudson of Champaign, a recent graduate of Illinois State University. From the piano, he will conduct a pit orchestra of eight other musicians.
"I love this show. This is my third time doing 'How to Succeed,'" Hudson said. "I love the score and jumped at the chance to do it again. It's really a fun piece from the golden age of Broadway musicals. There's lot jazz and swing stuff too. It's a good showcase for a pit orchestra."
He said the musical has 35 music cues, with a good balance between solos and ensemble pieces.
Keeping the cast members moving on stage is choreographer Whitney Havice of Champaign. This is her 40th show as a cast member or choreographer.
For "How to Succeed," Havice created dances that are "very jazzy, with lots of echoes of Fosse." She choreographed a "pseudo tap" number for "A Secretary is Not a Toy."
She described "Brotherhood of Man," which involves almost all of the 23-member cast, as an exuberant, joyous and high-energy show-stopper.
As Bud Frump, Essick gets to sing and dance — and interact for the first time on stage with his real-life wife Jenny Gleason. She got him into acting before they married.
"In previous shows I was always in the ensemble, and I never got to interact with her," Essick said. "In this show, I talk to her and she kicks me in the shin."
Liz Martin of Champaign portrays Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary at the World Wide Wicket Co. who instantly falls in love with Finch. She sets her sights on him, with encouragement from her co-workers.
Finally, as Finch's wife, Martin, a music teacher at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign, sings two reprises of "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm."
"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama. In the CUTC production, the "book voice" who narrates the musical (previously voiced in Broadway productions by Walter Cronkite and Anderson Cooper) will be Josh "The Prize Guy" Laskowski of local radio station Q96.
If you go
What: Champaign Urbana Theatre Company presents the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," directed by Amy Stoch; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, based on Shepherd Mead's 1952 book "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: The Dastard's Guide to Fame and Fortune"
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Parkland College Theatre, 2400 W. Bradley Ave., C
Tickets: $16 for adults; $12 for senior citizens and students; $8 for children
Information: 344-3884; http://www.cutc.org