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THEATER REVIEW : Play Rises to the Top : Moorpark College Music Theater's production of 'How to Succeed . . .' is still topical.

July 15, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If a principal purpose of a college education is to prepare callow undergraduates for life in the Real World, then Moorpark College Music Theater's current production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" should be a required course.

Though it debuted on Broadway in 1961, "How to Succeed . . . " may be the quintessential '50s musical, bringing to the stage the same irreverence for the white-collar office worker as novels like "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit" and films including the Tracy-Hepburn vehicle "Desk Set."

Perhaps surprisingly, the sharp script detailing young J. Pierrepont Finch's rapid rise on the corporate escalator holds up in the current Moorpark College production: Thirty years may have passed, but office--and sexual--politics seem to remain the same.

The story follows four individuals attempting to improve their station. Jeff Wallach stars as ambitious Finch, who begins with the World Wide Wicket Co. as a wide-eyed window-washer. Nicole Yaro co-stars as Rosemary, a secretary with her love-struck eyes on young comer Finch; Christian De Haven plays Bud Frump, the lazy but cunning nephew of company president J. B. Biggley, who's counting on the time-honored use of nepotism as his own express ticket out of a subordinate position in the mail room; and Susan Wiltfang is Hedy La Rue, former head cigarette girl at the Copa, attempting to capitalize on her status as Biggley's mistress.

All are fine, with the character actors given the most opportunity to create strong impressions. Though Yaro is stuck in a somewhat colorless ingenue role, she sings sweetly and is attractive enough to cause the audience to wonder why Finch doesn't fall for her immediately.

The fact is, although Wallach's energetic portrayal of Finch is likable, the character is something of a cad, so focused on ascension within the World Wide Wicket organization that virtually everything he does is career-motivated. If she were paying any attention, Rosemary should have been grateful Finch didn't simply step on her on his way up.

Wiltfang, who was playing the quite dissimilar role of Ado Annie in an Ojai production of "Oklahoma!" while rehearsing as the good-hearted, not-too-bright knockout Hedy, is certainly one of Ventura County's most reliable character actresses. Were it not for the high caliber of the other "How to Succeed . . . " leads, she would walk away with the show single-handed.

Director Marilyn Anderson is well-known for attracting good actors and here even the supporting cast is peopled with flashy characters: Bob Weaver as the boisterous Biggley; Susan Robb as his devoted secretary; Paul Fanning as fawning executive Bratt; Grant Dagg as an advertising executive, and Dawn Werber as Rosemary's somewhat dowdy friend.

Though Anderson and her cast do their best, the most disappointing aspect of "How to Succeed . . . " is the mediocre score, not the most imaginative or effective by Frank Loesser, whose earlier credits include "Guys and Dolls" and the pop songs "Two Sleepy People," "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You."

During the show's few dull spots, you can play Spot-the-Anachronism, as cast members refer to products ("Slim-Fast") and use terms ("spokesmodel") that are not part of the 1961 vocabulary.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" continues through this weekend only at the Moorpark College Forum Theater, 7075 Campus Road in Moorpark. Performances are at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $8 general admission; $7 for students and staff, and $6 for seniors and children under 12, and will be available at the door. For reservations or further information, call 378-1438.

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