TV’S MAD MEN COMES TO MIND IN "HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING" AND THE NEW BAY AREA MUSICALS TEAM BRINGS A TON OF COLOR AND PERSONALITY TO 1960’S OFFICE FUN.
Welcome BAY AREA MUSICALS - The newest Theatre Company to the bay. Artistic Director Matthew McCoy's three-show season is set for a run at the Marines Memorial Theatre, and Victoria Theatre. The inaugural show, “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” plays through December 19, and two other shows (Hair, Cage au Folles) are set for winter/spring 2016. Founder and AD McCoy says "As a new company looking to make a strong impact in the Bay Area theater scene, it only made sense for us to choose the satirical Tony-winning show 'How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' as our inaugural production. The cast and artistic team assembled are some of the best in the Bay Area and we are extremely excited to present this hysterical masterpiece to San Francisco." McCoy has assembled a talented cast of nineteen actors including the subtle charming Kyle Stoner as the scheming fast rising window washer, J. Pierrepont Finch.
H2$ - opened on Broadway in 1961 - winning its production team of Frank Loesser, Willie Gilbert and Abe Burrows the Tony for best musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. “How to Succeed” was the modern hit, it reflected its era; President Kennedy made sure he saw it. Icon Broadway actor Robert Morris was the original Finch, and it is clear the subtext of his role on AMC’s “Mad Men” is a reference to a grown up Pierrepont. The story reflects his love for being an advertising man, and it is a very aggressive climb to success, a tale that any age can enjoy. “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” features memorable numbers as “Coffee Break,” “Been A Long Day,” “A Secretary Is Not A Toy,” and “Brotherhood of Man.” This ensemble company is quick and talented all with great voices.
The featured players are spot-on, from the booming voice and massive stage presence of Kirk Johnson as Mr. Biggley, to the very funny and wise cracking Nicole Frydman as Smitty. Frydman is featured in “Been A Long Day” and is excellent along with local favorite Chloe Condon as Finch’s love interest, Rosemary. Condon presents a sweet Rosemary who shines with a wonderful polished voice in “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” has the perfect comic timing and angst with her lead Kyle Stoner.
Finch's nemesis, Bud Frump, is played by the cuddly Brendon North, who is suspicious of Finch's ambitions from the get go. The two battle it out from the mailroom to see who can work their way up the ladder to success the fastest. North has his share of evil moments and some of the best lines “If you have any ideas about climbing the ladder around here, (Finch) every time you look up, you're gonna see the seat of my pants!”. Frump has for the most part been played as the “Nance” on broadway and the other versions I have seen. but McCoy directs this Bud Frump as straight and it almost works. North is very funny in the spoof “Coffee Break” and his body language and buttoned jacket is a bit tight on him but perfect in setting up his childlike character.
There are many fine performances in this cast including my favorite Nikki Arias who captures the squirrely elder Mrs Jones, Biggley’s clever secretary. David Carver-Ford designed the perfect beehive wig for Jones and Arias owns the look. She also is the highlight of ”The Brotherhood of Man”. Mary Kalita is hilarious as the sexy Hedy La Rue, Biggley’s side flame. Her New Jersey accent is spot-on, in "A Secretary is Not a Toy," and she belts out "Love From a Heart Of Gold” in the second act. Powerhouse Michael Cabanlit plays three roles, the highlight being the mailroom boss, Mr Twimble, his “The Company Way” along with Stoner is a classic. The well mannered Matt Ono, plays Mr. Bratt the HR boss, he adds to McCoy’s staging with short brisk video game type movement to get his actors around Brian Watson’s post modern set. It could seem like robot exits and entrances but it is a nice touch.
The company does march around the whole two and half hours, and AeJay Mitchell’s choreography can be clumsy at times with the cast running into each other, yet this chaotic look can be appealing. Mitchell’s work with “Grand Old Ivy” is charming and the show stopper “Brotherhood of Man” brings the whole ensemble on stage and is a blast. Other standouts in the company include the dapper RJ San Jose as Mr Jenkins, Justin Lucas is vigorous as Mr. Ovington, and other characters, Lucas has one the brightest voices in the cast. Melissa Martinez, Samantha Pistoresi, Janice Engelgau, and Jackie Dennis play the women in the office and all shine in Pasquale Spezzano’s bright costume design. Spezzano kept the men in the perfect “Mad Men” suit and ties and the women dolled in 60’s pastel themed colors. Hedy LaRue’s busty leopard skirt is perfect along with Rosemary's a-line dresses. Ben Nguyen plays Mr. Gatch and is graceful on stage along with Pauli Amornkul under Michael Palumbo’s bright lighting design. The cyclorama storm of color sets the mood for each of the songs and scenes; Palumbo keeps it at 100% and bursts the company down stage, including when he highlights a head spot for every one of Finche's moves up the ladder of success.
An important element of the office set is an elevator which director McCoy uses well for lots of clever movement with his leads for “Been A Long Day”. Stoner’s take on Finch's weasel talent to brown nose the right person as he rises up the chain is well done. He is also good at striking it rich when he finds out Biggley is an Old Ivy grad. That sets up the classic duet of "Grand Old Ivy" as Finch and Biggley sing about ripping the head off of a rival Northern State Chipmunk. Stoner’s solo “Rosemary” that ends the first act is a bit lackluster but he shows his tenor talent which is excellent.
Music Director Jon Gallo keeps his cast in tone and has a great eight person orchestra pit backstage. "Cinderella Darling," performed by Smitty, Rosemary and the secretaries is superb. Another highlight is "I Believe in You" we see Finch with the men shaving in the restroom as they drive their sinks around the rising star . But the show-stopper is the well choreographed "Brotherhood of Man" featuring this new talented company of high energy theatre, it is worth seeing. If you are willing to attend one more holiday office party then join The Worldwide Wicket Company at BAM. Welcome Creative Director, Matthew McCoy and Bay Area Musicals, knock out some great theatre for 2016 and beyond. For more information on their upcoming musicals next year, follow the links below.
Bay Area Musicals (BAM) Presents
“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"
Music by Frank Loesser,
Book by Willie Gilbert, Jack Weinstock and Abe Burrows
Directed by Matthew McCoy, Choreographer Aejay Mitchell,
Music director Jon Gallo,
Costume designer Pasquale Spezzano.
Through December 19, 2015
Marine’s Memorial Theatre,
609 Sutter Street in San Francisco.
Tickets range from $35 to $60, and are available at (415) 340-2207
Subscribe to BAM - click on this link> http://www.bamsf.org/
Photos by Ben Krantz