The Dayton Playhouse’s 2014-15 season is off to a promising start thanks to its delightful staging of Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, Willie Gilbert and Jack Weinstock’s 1962 Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical satire “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
Based on the 1952 book by Shepherd Mead and directed by Jeff Sams, this “Succeed” succeeds primarily because it doesn’t have to survive on the confident shoulders of R.J. Steck, a tall, lanky and personable presence who conveys the proper amount of gumption and shrewdness as window washer-turned-corporate honcho J. Pierrepont Finch. Steck charmingly handles Finch’s fascinating ascension within the World Wide Wicket Company circa 1965, a goofy, dated playpen where men behave badly and women long for marriage. However, as with any star-driven musical from “Mame” to “Fiddler on the Roof,” it’s important for the lead to be supported. It’s satisfying to know Steck is surrounded by a strong ensemble and featured performers despite the cast overtly skewing younger than most productions of this show.
Brad Bishop is a hoot as philandering company president J.B. Biggley, particularly mastering Biggley’s idiosyncrasies and no-nonsense attitude while validating how easily manipulated he is. He also memorably partners with Steck for a comical rendition of “Grand Old Ivy” reminiscent of the 2011 Broadway revival starring Daniel Radcliffe. Lovely vocalist Taylor Winkleski is sweet and appealing as Rosemary Pilkington, the secretary smitten by Finch. The playful Tori Kocher, a breakthrough performer last season as Penny Pingleton in the Playhouse’s “Hairspray,” shines again as a wonderfully witty Smitty, Rosemary’s close friend and fellow secretary. Desmond Thomas, precise and intuitive, schemes with glee as Bud Frump, Biggley’s jealous nephew and Finch’s nemesis. As dim-witted vamp Hedy LaRue, Hannah Thompson cutely seduces and entraps. Jim Lockwood is terrifically distinctive as Mr. Twimble and Wally Womper. J. Gary Thompson (Bert Bratt), Richard Young (Milt Gatch), Rebekah Skaroupka (Miss Jones), and Steve Peters (Voice of the Book that gives Finch the tricks of the trade) commendably round out the principals. The enjoyable ensemble consists of Maggie Carroll, Malcolm Casey, Naman Clark, Janice Lea Codispoti, Paige Combs, Allison Eder, Karla Enix, Tyler Henry, Marabeth A. Klejna, Matt Lindsay, Grace Lindsley, Joe Meyer, Trevor Meyers, Jim Spencer, Sydney Thomas, John-Michael Vanover, Stacy Ward, and Andrew Wood.
From a notable musical standpoint, the Act 1 finale spotlighting Steck, Winkleski and Thomas will send you into intermission with a smile due to their very pleasant harmony and the strength of Nancy Perrin’s fine orchestra.
Elsewhere, choreographer Annette Looper supplies another series of energetic and flavorful routines as evidenced in the hilarious frenzy of “Coffee Break,” the mindful caution of “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” and the rousing unity of “Brotherhood of Man.” Chris Newman, the Playhouse’s resident scenic designer this season, supplies a colorfully authentic workplace complete with an efficient elevator and large walls cleverly serving as office doors. Kathleen Carroll’s attractive costumes are also era-appropriate. John Falkenbach’s lighting design, K.L. Storer’s sound design, Melanie Davis’ properties, and Steve Burton and Tim Grewe’s wig and hair design are added benefits of this thoroughly entertaining production.
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” continues through Sept. 21 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors and students. The production is performed in 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit online at www.daytonplayhouse.com