If you look beyond the squealing girls sitting all around you, you forget that you’re watching Harry Potter singing and hanging from the rafters. In the revival of Frank Loesser’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter” series) plays the lead J. Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious young man who haplessly climbs the corporate ladder.
Radcliffe is a sort of a little nugget. It’s a bit distracting how adorably tiny he is at his modest 5’5” stature. Having never heard his singing voice until seeing this play, I was surprised by just how impressive his stage presence was. He has a pleasant tenor that’s well-trained enough to reach the notes and blend with the seasoned professionals he’s paired with.
What won me over entirely though was his dancing in the production. In most modern Broadway productions, the casts have to be triple threats, owning their singing, dancing and acting with deft precision. Even big names like Radcliffe need to go big or go home. Some of the choreography seemed really demanding, yet the boy who lived was definitely up for the challenge, keeping up with all the professional dancers and taking the lead in most of his numbers.
I’m a fan of Loesser’s musicals. I think they’re a great mix of smart and quick dialogue and beautifully-constructed songs. Many of the duets, though saddled with the expected amount of theatrical camp, bottom out to some very pure and heartfelt interactions between characters. The show is a lighthearted and dance-y answer to the resurgence of 1960’s culture, a la “Mad Men.” The narrative centers around the fruits and follies brought on by ambition.
Certain numbers capture the different sorts of ambition like “Happy to Keep his Dinner Warm” (heralding the pros of advantageous marriage) and “How to…” (which features TV personality Anderson Cooper’s narration). Numbers like “Coffee Break,” an ode to caffeine in the workplace, are guaranteed to get a laugh.
Other standouts in the cast are John Larroquette as J. B. Biggley, the company’s CEO; Rose Hemingway as Rosemary Pilkington, Finch’s marriage-minded love interest and Tammy Blanchard as the dim-witted mistress Hedy La Rue. Stealing the show though was Christopher Hanke as the main antagonist, Bud Frump. Every time Hanke came on stage, his powerful pipes and comedic timing would instantly attract all the audience’s attention. Though the leads were each strong, Hanke’s charisma won out each time.
You can catch Radcliffe and the rest of the cast in “How To Succeed…” until Jan. 3 when he’ll be relieved of his checkered suit by fellow hobbit-look-alike, web entertainer and “Glee” star, Darren Criss.