For any university student anxious at the thought of being plunged into the ruthless realms of the business world, the Collingwood Woodplayers may have found the perfect answer with Frank Loesser’s award-winning musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Although the musical doesn’t necessarily provide all the answers that we long for, it seems to all come down to performance and first-time director Michelle Jardim has brilliantly met the expectations that arise from such a promising title.
Overall, the performance’s energy was excellent with group numbers such as “Coffee Break” really bringing the play to another level. The chorus’ dance numbers were choreographed simply but effectively and all the actors involved committed fully to their roles and delivered in their dancing, singing and theatricality. Despite frequent changes of scenes and set, and small slips in delivering the text from some of the actors, the show didn’t lose its pace at a single time during the performance.
Arthur Lewis’ performance as J. Pierrepont Finch was absolutely remarkable. His portrayal and extremely versatile facial expressions made Finch endearing and relatable, to the point where you would almost forget he really is a selfish, power hungry and thoroughly incompetent “eager beaver”. Nathan Chatelier’s (J. B. Bigley) humorous performance presented unique physicality and provoked hysterical laughter in the audience at several occasions. Lewis and Chatelier’s college song duet “Old Ivy” was one of the highlights of the show, and between Chatelier’s rugby-team like dancing and the sheer look of confusion on Finch’s face combined with erratic movements as he desperately tried to imitate his boss, it would be impossible to decide which one had the upper hand during the number.
Meg Duffy’s performance as Rosemary Pilkington – a naïve but strong-minded secretary who also has an ambition of her own (“How to Succeed with Flinch”) – is also to be praised. Her singing technique was very impressive, powerful and on-point throughout, and she embodied Rosemary’s character to perfection. She displayed a large panel of emotions, from teenage-like flirting to romantic disappointment and managed to keep her character comical yet endearing throughout. The trio of Lewis, Duffy and Emily Edwards (Smitty – Rosemary’s fellow secretary at the firm) was one of the strongest performances of the show.
The live band is a very nice addition to the show, and although they was distinctly off-key at times, really contributed to the aesthetic and energy. Sadly, some of the actors didn’t quite project enough, particularly when singing, and were at times barely audible. But this did not affect the overall energy of the show and the audience was certainly left absolutely thrilled with the performance.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is unapologetic in its complete un-seriousness. The characters are all stereotypes of the corporate world pushed to the extreme and it is precisely that which makes the musical so worthwhile. It is a scathing yet light-hearted critique and the Collingwood Woodplayers managed to render its complex humour brilliantly. The audience is drawn in, made an accomplice of Flinch’s immoral climbing of the corporate ladder.