The show’s title is How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying – but don’t let that fool you.
Earl Marriott Secondary’s drama and music departments have been putting in many long hours to bring the classic 1961 Broadway musical – complete with score by Frank Loesser, and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert – to the stage of the school’s Wheelhouse Theatre this month.
A cast of some 35 student actors, directed by drama department head Candace Radcliffe – with vocal direction by Bev Schellenberg and choreography by Carol Seitz – plus a full orchestra directed by band teacher Rodger Owens, a stage crew managed by Grade 12 Riley Leiper and an army of behind-the-scenes costumers and set builders, have laboured over the show for months, all leading up to a run April 15-19 and April 23-26 (7:30 p.m. performances, no show on Good Friday, April 18) at the school, 15751 16 Ave.
“Bev deserves huge credit for her great work as our vocal director – she is an unsung, pardon the pun, hero,” Radcliffe said. “Rodger, honestly, is a genius with this difficult score – the orchestra sounds amazing – and Carol is an incredible choreographer. And all the kids are so great and so sweet – there’s not a diva among them.”
Set in the offices of the mythical World Wide Wicket Company, circa 1963, How To Succeed… would seem to have everything going for it – and style to burn.
Bright, appealing lead and supporting performances combine with scads of ultra-cool ‘Mad Men’-era threads, a clever, tuneful score (“I Believe In You”, “A Secretary Is Not A Toy”) and a satirical script that still, Radcliffe said, packs plenty of laughs.
Armed with the How-To guide of the title, go-getter J. Pierrepoint Finch (Travis Clifford) begins his manipulative rise up the corporate ladder from window washer to executive with the assistance of secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Cassidy Johnson), aided and abetted by such denizens of the business world as Rosemary’s colleague Smitty (Rachel Fournier), boss J.B. Biggley (Peter Soda), blond bombshell Hedy LaRue (Emma Schellenberg) and Biggley’s nepotistic nephew, Bud Frump (Rhys Lawson).
“It also really helps that it’s had several successful revivals in recent years – including one with Daniel Radcliffe – which has brought all this teenage attention to the musical,” said Candace.
Even so, she admits to some trepidation in attempting a show that frankly and unapologetically skewers the chauvinist mores of the early ’60s business environment – complete with lecherous executives and a career ceiling for women that features only two options: becoming an executive secretary or getting married and keeping house in the suburbs.
“I struggled a little bit with choosing this,” she admitted. “I wondered whether people would ask, ‘why is Radcliffe picking a piece that is all about sexism?’”
But, she points out, How To Succeed… was – even at the time it was created – a conscious satirical “parody of gender roles in the 1960s.”
“At the end of the day, I’m a female director and an educator, and you can’t shy away from the historical context of a piece – it’s like abandoning Shakespeare, because we don’t like the way things were done in that time.”
It’s an opportunity for students to see how society has progressed since the ’60s, she said.
“At the same time, we’re lying to ourselves if we don’t think that some things have stayed the same.”
In a break between rehearsals, Grade 12s Leiper, Clifford and Lawson and Grade 11 Emma Schellenberg, agreed it’s a show that still has currency – even with its caricatured approach.
“There are still Hedy LaRues out there – even in school communities,” Schellenberg said. “She’s relatable to people who need to be looked at.”
Even though Hedy’s aware “all the men follow her around,” and that she owes her status in the company to Biggley’s personal interest, the character still has a naive quality, she said.
“She wants to feel like she has an actual job – as she says, she used to be the head cigarette girl at the Copa.”
“Finch is the cool, collected character working his way through the corporate workplace, getting where he wants to be without trying,” Clifford said.
“He’s a fun character to play – and it’s also funny that the book directly narrates what is happening to him in each scene.”
While his obsession with getting ahead in the business world makes him blind to the romantic aspirations of Rosemary, disaster forces Finch away from the book’s advice and into a position of being “more sincere,” he said.
Lawson said he’s also enjoying playing “whiny” company man Bud Frump, bound and determined to crush the threatening attempts of Finch to shake up the status quo.
“It’s a very big, cartoony character,” he said. “That kind of comedy comes naturally to me.”
Tickets ($16, $14 seniors, $12 students) are on sale at 604-531-8354, ext. 171.