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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's review of Next to Normal

Stephen Johnstun, Sonia Rodriguez Wood,
and Katie Marburger

Photo by Heather Butcher
The fairly simple story of a young man and his rise up the corporate ladder, with all of the business politics and office romances that come along the way up his climb, is the focus of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Don Bluth Front Row Theatre's presentation of this comical gem is receiving a fairly sturdy production full of fun and frivolity.

The plot follows J. Pierrepont Finch, a former window washer who, upon reading a book entitled "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," navigates his way up the corporate ladder at the World Wide Wicket Company by following the steps in the book. Finch befriends J.B. Biggley, the President of the company, and in a very determined way, he figures out how to be in the right place at the right time to overhear important information and make the right connections to help him find success.

The musical has a fun, infectious score by Frank Loesser but the show is set in the time period of the 1960s and filled with the sexism and sexist characters that the period personified. While bookwriters Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert take a satirical look at corporate life during those years, you do have to slightly check your political correctness at the door in order to get past some of the now very un-pc elements of the plot.

Cheryl Schaar's direction provides a crisp pace for the proceedings and she has a firm grasp on the satirical, and not serious, tone of the piece but also doesn't downplay any of the sexual shenanigans. She also does a great job of using every inch of the performance space to stage the scenes and musical numbers while keeping her cast in check to ensure they don't make the characters too broad or too satirical.

As Finch, Stephen Johnstun has enough charm and likability to make the character completely endearing. Darryl Poenisch is funny with plenty of warmth as Biggley while Katie Marburger is full of determination as Rosemary, the secretary who falls for Finch. In supporting roles, Brian McCarthy is a firecracker of annoyance, grit, and an oddball goofiness as Biggley's nephew Bud Frump who uses his relationship to the boss to get ahead; Sonia Rodriguez Wood is an absolute gem as Smitty, the nosey secretary and Rosemary's friend; and Erica Parrish is a hoot as the not so smart sexpot Hedy LaRue. Dan Marburger and Rob Dominguez bring plenty of bits of comedy to their roles as two men who work at the company.

As far as vocals go, the female cast members are better than the men, including Johnstun whose vocals could be stronger. The women provide plenty of professional pizazz with Marburger and Wood especially bold and brassy in their musical numbers. There have also been some cuts to the show, including the omission of some dance portions of the songs, which detract a bit, especially since the cuts give Finch less stage time. And since Finch is the main character, these cuts change the balance of the show and not exactly in a good way. The cast also misses some of the finer comical nuances of the script.

Fortunately, Don Bluth, Frederick Alphonso and Kim Rodriguez's choreography is great, with varied movement and comical additions that make each musical number different. While the small Don Bluth space doesn't afford much room for elaborate sets, the costumes by Corinne Hawkins are stellar.

While I have a few quibbles with this production, especially around the cuts that have been made, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is still a stellar musical. With a good cast and crisp direction, the end result is a fun-filled comedy that succeeds.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying runs at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre through July 2nd, 2016. For more information on this production or to order tickets, go to or call 480 314-0841.

Directed by Cheryl Schaar
Choreographed by Don Bluth, Frederick Alphonso and Kim Rodriguez
Set Designer: Cheryl Schaar
Lighting Designer: Curtis Watson
Sound Designer: Roger McKay
Costume Designer: Corinne Hawkins
Hair Designer: Maddie Kinzie
Props: Priscilla Bertling

Cast: J. Pierpont Finch: Stephen Johnstun
Rosemary: Katie Marburger
Mr. Biggley: Darryl Poenisch
Hedy: Erica Parrish
Bud Frump: Brian McCarthy
Smitty: Sonia Rodriguez Wood
Twimble/Wamper: Dan Marburger
Bratt: Rob Dominguez
Gatch: Ricco Machado-Torres
Miss Jones: Elizabeth von Lau
Miss Krumholtz: Anna Katen
Tackaberry/BBDO: Frederick Alphonso
Jenkins: George Gonzalez
Ensemble: Frank Aaron, Jorie Davis, Melissa Kamel, Maddie Kinzie, Kim Rodriguez, Jeff Viso

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