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THEATER | Theater Review

Succeeding in 'Business'

Bottom line of Todd Nielsen's low-tech musical revival is infectious energy.

May 27, 1999|JANA J. MONJI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In these politically correct times, there's something a bit daring about dusting off a 1961 musical that plays on sexist attitudes. Frank Loesser's "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" was revived at La Jolla Playhouse in 1994, going on to a successful Broadway run that won its star, Matthew Broderick, a Tony in 1995.

This revival at the Colony Studio Theatre doesn't have the high-tech computerized imagery or the star wattage of that production. But under the guiding hand of director and choreographer Todd Nielsen, this cast attacks the archaic attitudes with a feverish zeal, creating an energetic, hilarious take on American business practices.

Part of the fun is remembering how bad the good old days were as this well-tuned ensemble prances and mugs on Scott Storey's set--a multilevel pastel temple to big business bureaucracy, clever in its low-tech approach.

As the ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch, Nick DeGruccio bypasses the boyish sweetness that characterized Broderick's interpretation and instead favors a crass unctuousness. Against Chad Borden's wildly elastic expression of evil in the role of Finch's nemesis, Bud Frump, DeGruccio's slithering ingratiation sets a cold tone. Finch doesn't really gain one's sympathy, but watching his skillful machinations is entertaining.

Almost a head shorter than all the other cast members, DeGruccio utilizes his vertically challenged state to great effect. Nielsen has him posturing to elicit paternal and maternal instincts with cool calculation. This mostly works, although the towering blond Denise Dillard as his love interest, Rosemary, is not well-matched with DeGruccio.

Judy Walstrum has the right squeaky voice for the cigarette-girl-turned-career-girl bimbette, but costume designer Shon LeBlanc curiously kept her sexuality under wraps. She's expensive--draped in furs and diamonds--but oddly demure.

LeBlanc's pastel ensembles cross the '50s and the '60s safely while Steven Young's light design has some psychedelic moments. When the live band under the direction of Brian Murphy accompanies the disciplined dancing and well-harmonized singing, the joy of the cast is infectious.

Still, the best moments are when Borden gnashes his teeth, grimaces with overwrought hate and grins with sinister glee. Borden's Frump is a villain one loves to hate, while DeGruccio's Finch is a slightly slimy anti-hero--not loved, nor hated, but devilishly lucky in this winning production.

BE THERE

"How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," Colony Studio Theatre, 1944 Riverside Drive, Silver Lake. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Aug. 15. $25-$28. (323) 665-3011. Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes.

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