How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Written on August 21st, 2011

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

How to - Finch & Frump

Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed and Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld
Associate Director Joe Bowerman
Musical direction by Charlene Nafziger
Performed by Ari Butler, Jayme Armstrong, Victor A. Young, Brian McKay, Ayrin Mackie, Thomas Alderson, Caitlin Goguen, Jayne Lewis, Curtis Sullivan, Mike Jackson et al.
Drayton Festival Theatre, Drayton
August 17 to September 3, 2011
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
July 27 to August 13, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Disclaimer: The writer’s son is part of the cast.

A Business Manual for Everyone

The laughs are many and the music is lively in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” currently on stage at Huron Country Playhouse.

Young Pierrepont Finch is a window washer at a big business in New York City. He’s reading a helpful book entitled “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”, following its advice. He steps into the building, headquarters of the World Wide Wicket Company. Ambitious and crafty, he lands a job in the mailroom, and from there, works his way to the top, impressing the boss, J.B. Biggley. The boss’s nephew, the lazy Bud Frump, attempts to thwart Finch, but Finch not only outwits Frump’s traps, he ends up with the lovely secretary, Rosemary, too.

Credit for reviving a dated script and making it funny goes to Director Michael Lichtefeld and Associate Director Joe Bowerman. Being an early sixties story, it could have been insulting to women and the humour might have been lost. But by going over the top, instead of demeaning women, it pokes satirical fun of the whole notion of women being only “sexretaries.” The song “A Secretary is Not a Toy” satirizes old chauvinist attitudes.

Ari Butler is excellent as J. Pierrepont Finch. He shows Finch as a genuine keener and not just conniving to get ahead. Butler delights the audience with his big smile and a musical “ping”, each time he is successful. Butler makes us like Finch and we are rooting for him to get those promotions.

Jayme Armstrong is perfect as Rosemary Pilkington. She brings out some spunk and charm in Rosemary, not allowing her to be just another secretary wanting to marry her boss. Victor A. Young is ideal as J. B. Biggley, the blustering, dithering boss who can be snowed by both Finch and Frump. Young’s comedic timing is perfect as he pulls out his knitting needles. Ayrin Mackie is the ultimate Hedy LaRue, a blonde bombshell with the right tone of voice to seduce Biggley.

Brian McKay, a Drayton Entertainment favourite, is excellent in three roles. First he’s the yes-man, Mr. Twimble, proud of his 25-year record in the mailroom. Then he is the Texan, Mr. Ovington, complete with a southern drawl and a cowboy hat. Later McKay plays Mr. Womper, the chairman of the board – all three different and equally funny, a testament to McKay’s skills. Caitlin Goguen is comical as Smitty, the dowdy secretary with the black-framed glasses and hair in pigtails.

Jayne Lewis is delightful as Miss Jones, Mr. Biggley’s secretary, who is charmed by Finch and shares secrets with him. Curtis Sullivan has the perfect voice for Mr. Bratt in personnel while Mike Jackson plays the smarmy Mr. Gatch very well. My son, Thomas Alderson, is the lazy nerd, Bud Frump who uses his mother and aunt to get promoted by blackmailing Biggley. He enjoys playing the annoying role. He played the evil Mordred at Huron Country Playhouse two years ago, and is happy to back in an equally nasty role, but this time more comedic.

In addition, there is an ensemble of office yes-men and a pool of secretaries who sing and dance their way through the hilarious songs. Ryan Adkins, Matthew Armet, Stephen Cota, Rachel Crowther, Nicko Giannakos, Carla Giuliani, Sarah Harries, Jessica Horn, Patrick Stiles and Heather E. Wilson.   “Paris Original” with all the women is an audience favourite, and “Brotherhood of Man” is an uplifting anthem with the men. The finale of “The Company Way” easily brings the audience to their feet as the show closes.

Musical director Charlene Nafziger keeps the band lively. The choreography is good, with lots of high energy. The addition of tap numbers adds to the vitality. Set designer Douglas Paraschuk has created an amazing high-rise office building complete with the New York skyline, which transforms easily into interior halls, offices and even the elevator. The costumes are pure early sixties – bow ties on the guys and assorted colourful dresses on the ladies.  There are many changes throughout the show, keeping it interesting, thanks to costume designer Michelle Vanderheyden.  The Paris Originals are good fun! 

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is the fun version of the TV show Mad Men. It first appeared on Broadway in 1961 and won the Tony for best musical in 1962, with Robert Morse taking the best actor award as J. Pierrepont Finch and Charles Nelson Reilly winning best featured actor for his portrayal of Bud Frump. In 1995 a revival was mounted, starring Matthew Broderick as Finch, who took the best actor Tony. This year, it has been revived on Broadway with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) in the lead role. John Larroquette (Dan in Night Court) won the Tony for his portrayal of Mr. Biggley.

On opening night I chatted with people who had seen this year’s revival on Broadway, and they reported that the Drayton Entertainment’s version compared very favourably. It’s energetic, brimming with hilarious satire. Combine ridiculous office politics with absurd office gossip, add some funny songs and good music, and you have the recipe for “How to Succeed”. Enjoy!

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying continues with eight shows a week until August 13 at Huron Country Playhouse and then until September 3 at Drayton. Tickets are available at Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or check

5 Responses to “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” | Add Your Thoughts

  1. Mary Alderson’s review captures the show so well! There is one thing that I would add, that the reviewer is not willing to add because her son plays the role of Bud Frump. Thomas Alderson plays this part as if it were written for him! You can’t help but laugh from the moment he steps onto the stage, and his antics begin! He plays the role with his entire body…. his hands, shoulders, posture, facial expressions….. he IS Bud Frump while he is up there. Thomas has amazing talent, and it is hard to keep your eyes off of him each and every time he is on the stage. If you haven’t seen the show, you should!

  2. Pamela Stanley
    August 4, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Hi Mary; Debbie (above) is absolutely correct! While the whole cast is well suited to their parts, Thomas IS Bud Frump. His antics, movements and body language are hysterical, and there are several scenes where he literally “Steals the show’. Go ahead, be proud of your boy. We are all so lucky to have so much great live theatre and terrific actors in our midst in southwestern Ontario. Toronto should be jealous!! Cheers, Pamela

  3. Gary Alan Price
    August 4, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with above comments. Thomas does a superb (and I mean superb!) job of portraying Bud Frump. He has real comedic timing and talent. He reminds me of a younger Keith Savage — and that’s a very good thing! Bravo, Thomas! Gary

  4. Hi Mary,
    So glad to have received your review! It wouldn’t be summer without seeing Thomas at Grand Bend. We’re off to see the show tonight!

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