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LIGHTNING REVIEW: 'How to Succeed' is likely to succeed

Adam Kaplan stars as Finch in 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' Adam Kaplan stars as Finch in 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying'

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is a light Fifties-ish musical comedy pushed merrily along by 20 hummable songs —exactly why it’s a safe bet to sustain the strong box office numbers the resurgent Flat Rock Playhouse has delivered so far in 2015.

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“Mad Men” minus the guile and overt sex, “How to Succeed” stars Adam Kaplan as J. Pierrepont Finch, a window washer who uses a “how to guide,” artful manipulation and a load of charm to finesse his way to the top. Don Draper he’s not. We root for “Ponty” to take down those on the upper rungs of the ladder because they’re more pompous than he’s even capable of being. A 2009 and 2011 summer apprentice graduate, Kaplan appeared here in "Hairspray," "Man of La Mancha," and "Seven Brides." He carries this show with a gleeful agility, never missing a lyric, line or dance step.
The company a novice young businessman targets, intones the book’s narrator (Judge Wapner sidekick and Lake Lure resident Doug Llewellyn), “should be at least big enough so that nobody knows what anybody else is doing.”
The World Wide Wicket Co., led by the fatuous J.B. Biggley, surrounded by dozens of well-dressed nobodies who aspire only to make it their 25-year pin, fits the bill. When Finch wonders blindly around the halls of the executive suite, he literally runs into Biggley, who summarily dismisses the notion that WWW would have a job for him.
That only gives Finch the cover to stride confidently into the personnel department and announce that “I was just talking to Mr. Biggley,” appending the fib that Biggley had sent him there. “I just bumped into him,” he adds with his light-up-the-room smile.
The dancing is sharply choreographed throughout, especially in “Coffee Break,” “A Secretary is not a Toy,” the rousing “Brotherhood of Man” and the men’s room performance of “I Believe in You,” topped with Finch’s dazzling bowtie-tying feat.
The magnificent color palette of costume designer Ashli Arnold had me on the edge of my seat anticipating the next dazzle of color in the ensemble numbers.
As Rosemary Pilkington, Finch’s love interest, Libby Servais delivers a sassy headstrong performance that complements the young businessman’s earnestness. Courtney Daniels as Smitty livens things up throughout, and Matt DaSilva is fun as Bud Frump, the deviously ambitious but ultimately ineffective nephew of Mr. Biggley.
Director Richard Hinds makes good use of the new class of apprentices both in speaking roles and in the stage-filling ensemble numbers.
Act I clocks in at a bladder-testing 90 minutes, a fact that the ushers wisely impart over and over as they tear ticket stubs. That first act features 13 of the 20 songs.
Plucking off junior and senior executives along the way, Finch winds up through luck and manipulation to success in business and moreover success in love.
Finishing with “The Brotherhood of Man” and the final reprise of “Company Way,” the colorfully costumed cast took a well-deserved bow for an appreciative audience the night I saw the show. Here’s predicting that the 26 actors in this company will help deliver a net profit for the Playhouse as they manufacture a memorable summer night for its patrons.