Daniel Radcliffe, left, and John Larroquette
NEW YORK – Daniel Radcliffe, the young alumnus of the Harry Potter films – the eighth and final installment in the series of which opens in July – and the older John Larroquette of TV’s "Night Court" fame are conjuring up lots of comical fun in a joyous Broadway revival of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."
At the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street, it is being acted and sung by a stageful of professionals who establish a galloping pace and maintain a terrific tempo for two and a half hours.
Everyone is in top form in this Broadway fable with a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" follows the rocketing rise in business of the ambitious J. Pierpont Finch, from window-washer to chairman of the board of the World Wide Wicket Company, a big business the show’s authors have fabricated for fun.
Mr. Radcliffe plays "Ponty," his office nickname, with a shrewdly innocent manner and beguiling smile, but under his 1960s three-button suit beats the heart of a pirate.
With nothing but a book of advice that’s based on the 1951 best- seller by Shepherd Mead clutched in his hand, he fawns, connives, flatters and white-lies his way through the mail department, the junior executive ranks, the advertising department and all the other strata until he emerges cheerfully at the top of the World Wide Wicket. It is a speedy rise that would turn Horatio Alger green with envy. In the end, the employer whom he has just replaced feels moved to warn the White House that "Ponty" may be on his way to Washington and people there should prepare to defend the building.
Of course, because it is a musical comedy, all of this is done with a spirited sense of fun. "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" takes a jab at every foible of American industry of the period, from coffee breaks to business conferences; yet, there is no malice in a show whose authors prove you can succeed in satire without being caustic.
Mr. Radcliffe romps through this happy musical like a mischievous elf. His success, at 21, as a triple-threat musical comedy man could not have been predicted. His two predecessors in the role were seasoned Broadway regulars when they took on the part; they both were also almost a decade older than Mr. Radcliffe. Robert Morse was 30 when he originated the role in 1961, and Matthew Broderick was 34 when he recreated it in 1995.
Although ever since Mr. Radcliffe made his debut in 2001 as the boy wizard in the first Harry Potter film – "The Sorcerer’s Stone" – he has always seemed to sport a maturity beyond his age. In recent years, he has worked hard at not being pigeonholed by the Harry Potter role. In 2007, in an effort to show his maturity and acting skill, he took on the challenging role of Alan Strong, the psychologically disturbed teenager in Peter Shaffer’s "Equus," playing successful engagements in London and New York.
In "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," Mr. Radcliffe more than fills the bill, and his performance catches the show’s tone and matches the authors’ wit. The protean composer Frank Loesser has written a half-dozen hit songs in the show, which Mr. Radcliffe sings with acceptable fervor. I especially admired his duet with Mr. Larroquette of "Grand Old Ivy"; and his final number, a feverish song-and-dance showstopper, "Brotherhood of Man," rocks the walls of the Hirschfeld Theatre and leaves the audience roaring for more.
He gets first-class support from the talented cast that surrounds him: Mr. Larroquette, in his Broadway debut, is consistently funny and pompous as J.B. Biggley, the head of World Wide Wicket Co.; and Rose Hemingway, as Rosemary, the girl who tries to get Ponty’s attention, is pretty and engaging and has a lovely singing voice. There are also good comic performances by Tammy Blanchard as Hedy La Rue, Mr. Biggley’s secretary; and Christopher J. Hanke as Bud Frump, the boss’s difficult nephew.
Derek McLane has designed stylish ’60s-period settings. Catherine Zuber’s colorful costumes – think "Mad Men" – point up the sly humor of the show. Rob Ashford has directed and choreographed broadly, but has cannily created fun at every turn without clichés or stereotypes. Mr. Radcliffe and company are scheduled to be performing "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" through November.
Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment.