In the cost-benefit analysis of theater going, there are three items to consider: the price of the ticket, the quality of the production, and the length of the show. Sadly, “length of the show” must take into account the location of the theater, since this element ultimately figures into the painful calculus of, “Is this show so good that it’s worth losing sleep over?” For that reason, even solid houses like the Hampstead Theater, and the Royal Stratford rarely see me, as they need to have a five star production AND an affordable price before I even consider making the trip.
Another house that suffers from distance from the center (for me) is Ye Olde Rose and Crown, situated rather unfortunately at end of the Victoria line furthest from my home. Sure, it’s zone three, I live in zone three, but we’re talking a full hour’s travel here, likely only doable on a non-school night.
And yet, this year I’ve seen them do several very good revivals of lesser-known silver age musicals with performances and production quality that went far beyond what I expected of a “pub theater.” Fun costumes, good choreography, and great singing on top of an already strong score and book? It’s an irresistible combination, so much show that when I found out they were doing a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – which I’ve never seen before – during a month when I had almost completely locked my schedule thanks to two bank holidays and the Lufthansa Early Music Festival. Gah! When could I go? How could I make the time? There seemed to be no option but to *gasp* go on a Wednesday night. At least the Tube strike had been called off.
After the disappointment of the Pyjama Game a night before, I can’t tell you what a relief it was to spend the night watching a show where I was eager to go back after the interval. Of course, the producers had picked a really good script – How to Succeed is unapologetically comic, but not because of silly accidental meetings or an overly forced romance. The story of a young man (J Pierrepont Finch – a fresh-faced Adam Pettigrew) trying to become an executive by following the advice of a self-help book is ripe for laughs, and the script takes full advantage of the opportunities presented (rather like Mr Finch himself). We have a love interest (Rosemary – the winning Alyssa Nicol) who dreams of keeping his dinner warm when he works late, and a giggling, smarmy villain in Bud Frump (Josh Wilmott), the boss’s nephew, who’s always willing to call Mother when things don’t go his way. The machinations of the three of them – Finch trying to get his next leg up, Bud and Rosemary trying to get Finch – keep the action moving forward nicely. Then add a bombshell (Hedy LaRue – the gigglicious Amy Burke) who’s trying to seduce Finch while keeping the big boss, J.B. Biggley (Mark Turnbull) happy – well, there’s lots of conflict, broken hearts, bad behavior, and fun for us lucky folks sitting in the audience to enjoy.
The songs, while not being as well known as those from Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, are comedy classics – “Coffee Break” (in which the entire staff goes mad because there’s no more coffee), “A Secretary is Not a Toy” (obvious) being excellent examples. They’re helped along by a fully engaged triple-cast backing cast, amongst whom I really enjoyed Nicholas Devlin, who gave each of his characters personality and quirks – not an upstager but one of many shamelessly hamming it up. It worked great for me – I love having something interesting to see no matter where I look when a big dance number is going on. And we got lots of those – don’t ask me how they fit so much into such a small area, I thought the dancers were going to bounce off of the lights!
Since I was new to the show, I had no idea what was going to happen in the second half, and I rushed back to take my seat. Then suddenly it was 10:30 and we were all saying our goodbyes, and I couldn’t help but wonder where the time had gone – I’d been having so much fun that I just lost track of time passing. I ddn’t regret for a minute the long hike home or being a bit groggy the next day – I was completely cheered up and practically tap danced my way back to the tube. Now this is what going to a musical ought to be like!
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on May 7, 2014. It continues through May 24th.)