How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying 

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Last Sunday's New York Times carried an article on "faux fitness" in the business world--the steps executives are taking to look younger and tougher as they claw their way through today's lean-and-mean corporate community. What these guys really need is a copy of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the manual that guides J. Pierrepont Finch, the antihero of this hilarious 1961 musical, as he brownnoses and backstabs his way to the top of World Wide Wicket--a company so big that nobody knows exactly what anybody else is doing. Following Ponty's progress from window washer to chairman, the show skewers such topics as sexual harassment, nepotism, old-school ties, office romances, and the coffee break (whose cancellation leads to mass nervous breakdown in the show's funniest chorus number). Abe Burrows's gag-filled script has been slightly revised by director Des McAnuff to highlight the irony under the cartoonish surface; Frank Loesser's wickedly clever songs deliver sharp-edged satire couched in playfully perky melodies. McAnuff's staging employs video animation to convey the hectic atmosphere of a Manhattan office, while angular sets and lighting reinforce the plot's preoccupation with linear status--who's going up and who's going down. (It is not enough that you succeed, the show reminds us; others must fail.) As Ponty, Ralph Macchio is a cute and competent singer-dancer, but he's too lightweight to satisfactorily carry off big numbers like "I Believe in You," the self-love song he sings to a washroom mirror. But the supporting cast is first-rate, especially Roger Bart as Ponty's archrival Bud Frump, a poison pill who gets swallowed up by his own schemes. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 902-1500. Through June 23: Tuesdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $29.50-$62. --Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joan Marcus.

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