In "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," corporate climber J. Pierrepont Finch is on his way up.
The Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra closed its 20th-anniversary pops series Saturday with two performances of the Broadway musical, conducted by Christopher Wilkins and directed by Frank McClain.
Unlike the character of Finch, Saturday afternoon's performance never quite reached the highest heights, though it did succeed. In part that's due to the show's set-up that cleverly lets the audience latch onto the character of Finch and root against all the morons who hold us back.
In the show, it's 1961 and window washer Finch (Robert Johnston) buys a book that teaches him the easy way to succeed in business. Turns out, it's mostly about charm, guile and connections — not ability. Along the way, secretary Rosemary tries to land career-focused Finch for herself.
The recent Broadway revival of the show employed the star power of Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe and a Jonas brother as Finch. Here, Johnston is charming enough to hold his own with that company and his pleasant tenor makes the self-centered song "I Believe In You" much easier to swallow.
There are plenty of other echoes of that Broadway revival in this production, from Lisa Buck's brightly colored honeycomb-like scenic design to Ellie Potts-Barrett's choreography for big number "The Brotherhood of Man" to Finch's bowtie.
But echoes pale in comparison to the real thing, of course, and this production shows how the razzle-dazzle of a full-out Broadway staging helps hide the dated aspects and other creaks in the story line. Songs such as "The Company Way" and "Grand Old Ivy" are fun to hear, but just don't sparkle without the benefit of bigger production numbers.
As besotted Rosemary, Hannah Laird has a strong singing voice trapped in a role that modern women surely scorn. But the kicky1960s hairstyles by Robert Kuntz and vibrant costumes coordinated by Bobbie Demme-San Filippo make her need for a man more palatable by creating an aura of dress-up.
In secondary roles, Natalie Cordone as Rosemary's friend, and especially Cameron Matthews as Finch's nemesis, show off their mastery of comic timing. Cordone has just the right brittle touch for Smitty and the requisite brassy pipes for "Coffee Break" and "Been a Long Day." Matthews, too, has a strong singing voice, and when he lets his long-limbed frame go slack, he's the perfect object of comic scorn.
Michael Edwards is very funny as the stuffed-shirt company president, and Michelle Knight puts on a grating voice to good effect as his paramour, making it all the stranger that their comic duet was cut from the show.
The Philharmonic, at center stage, gave extra heft to the more sweeping moments in the score, especially romantic duet "Rosemary." Having the musicians on stage also provided an extra laugh at Finch's declaration that being in love is "like music all around me! Like a symphony!"
The unexpected star of the performance? Maestro Wilkins. The Philharmonic's music director played a minor role and did a bit of mugging with the actors, successfully injecting moments of fun.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun