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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a musical with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, based on Shepherd Mead's 1952 book of the same name.

In 1961, the show opened on Broadway, initially running for 1,417 performances. The show won seven Tony Awards and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1967, a film based on the musical was released by United Artists, with many of the original cast recreating their roles. A 1995 revival was mounted on Broadway starring Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally.

History

In 1952, Shepherd Mead's satirical book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, became a bestseller. Playwright Willie Gilbert and neurosurgeon Jack Weinstock created a dramatic interpretation in 1955 that was unproduced for five years. Agent Abe Newborn brought the work to the attention of producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, with the intention of retooling it as a musical. Feuer and Martin had great success with the 1950 adaptation of Guys and Dolls and brought in the creative team from that show to work on How to.... Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser set to work on the new adaptation, with rehearsals beginning in August 1961. Burrows collaborated on the book with Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, also serving as director. Their new adaptation became even more satirical and added romance to the story. Loesser wrote both music and lyrics for the show.

The original Broadway production credited the choreography to an obscure dance director named Hugh Lambert, while the much better-known Bob Fosse received only a "musical staging by..." credit. Abe Burrows explains this in his autobiography Honest, Abe. While How to Succeed... was in its early development, producer Cy Feuer attended a trade show and was extremely impressed by an elaborate dance number created by Lambert, prompting Feuer to hire Lambert to choreograph the new musical. According to Burrows, it soon became clear in rehearsals that Lambert's creative abilities were completely used up in that one elaborate dance number. Bob Fosse was brought in to replace him, but Fosse was unwilling to hurt Lambert's career by having him fired. Lambert's trade-show dance number was recycled as the "Treasure Hunt" dance in How to Succeed..., while Fosse agreed to take a "musical staging" credit for choreographing all the other dance numbers. Burrows also reveals that another crisis arose in rehearsals when former recording star Rudy Vallee wanted to interpolate some of his hit songs from the 1930s.

Synopsis

Act I

J. Pierrepont Finch, a young window cleaner, has a mind for advancement. A disembodied "Book Voice", tells him that "everything [he] needs to know about the science of getting ahead" is contained within the book in his hand, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. He enters the World Wide Wicket Company searching for a job.

Finch knocks J.B. Biggley, the president of the company, to the ground. Finch presses Biggley for a job, who dismisses him to the personnel manager, Mr. Bratt. Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary, is impressed with Finch and offers to help him meet Mr. Bratt. Bratt treats Finch brusquely until Finch mentions he was referred to Bratt by Mr. Biggley. Finch is given a job in the mailroom, where he works with Mr. Biggley's lazy and nepotism-minded nephew, Bud Frump. Rosemary dreams of a life with Finch in the suburbs and tells her friend Smitty that she'd be Happy to Keep his Dinner Warm.

Coffee break! The fatigued workers fall over each other in their rush to get to the coffee machine, only to find it bone dry. The Book Voice warns Finch, "One word of caution about the mailroom: it is a place out of which you must get." Twimble, head of the mailroom, is moving to the shipping department. He tells Finch that the secret to longevity at the company is to play things The Company Way. Twimble appoints Finch as his successor, but Finch, heeding the words of his trusty book, declines the promotion, saying that Bud Frump is more qualified. Frump accepts, vowing to play things The Company Way, too. Twimble and Bratt are impressed by Finch, and Bratt offers him a job as a junior executive in the Plans and Systems department, headed by Mr. Gatch. Frump, seeing that he has been outdone, fumes.

Miss Hedy LaRue, a gorgeous Marilyn Monroe-esque career woman is Mr. Biggley's mistress, she leaves the men around the office panting in her wake wherever she goes. Mr. Bratt reminds his men that A Secretary Is Not a Toy.

It is Friday afternoon, just after five o'clock. As the employees make their way to the elevators, the ever-alert Finch learns that Biggley is extremely proud of his alma mater, Old Ivy, and learns that he will be in the office Saturday morning. Rosemary and Smitty encounter Finch at the elevator. They agree that it's Been a Long Day, and Smitty helps them arrange a date. Frump runs into Biggley and Hedy, arguing about her job. Frump realizes their relationship and blackmails Biggley into giving him a promotion.

On Saturday morning, Finch enters early and scatters a mess around his office to make it appear that he has been working all night. Biggley arrives and witnesses Finch "asleep" at his desk. Finch "absent-mindedly" begins humming Grand Old Ivy -- the Old Ivy fight song. Finch convinces the Old Man that he, too, is a proud alumnus. Biggley insists that Finch be given his own office and secretary. Bratt assigns Hedy, prompting the Book Voice to warn Finch to beware of secretaries who have many talents, none of them secretarial. Finch realizes that Biggley must be her advocate, and sends her on an errand to Gatch, knowing that he won't be able to resist making a pass at her. Finch is soon seated behind Gatch's desk, Gatch having been dispatched to Venezuela.

A reception for the new Advertising Department head, Benjamin Burton Daniel Ovington, is being held, and Rosemary hopes to impress Finch with her new Paris Original. She arrives first, only to watch all of the women in the office enter wearing an identical design of dress. Hedy has a bit too much to drink, and she exits to shower in Biggley's office. Frump, seeing an opportunity, tells Finch that Biggley is waiting in his office for him. Hoping to trap Finch and Hedy, Frump goes off to find Biggley. In the office, Hedy makes a pass at Finch, and, as they are kissing passionately, Finch realizes that he is in love with "Rosemary", who enters as Hedy returns to the bathroom. Finch proposes to her and, as she is about to accept, Hedy comes out of the bathroom clad in only a towel. Rosemary angrily leaves the office, only to find Frump and Biggley just outside the door. Hedy returns to the bathroom, and Finch and Rosemary embrace -- just in time for Frump and Biggley to walk through the door. Ovington resigns after being prompted for his alma mater by Finch; Biggley realizes that Ovington matriculated from Old Ivy's bitter rival. Biggley names Finch Vice-President in Charge of Advertising, just in time for a big meeting two days hence. Biggley leaves as Finch and Rosemary declare their love for J. Pierrepont Finch, and Bud Frump states "I will return!"

Act II

It is the morning of the big meeting, and Rosemary is feeling neglected by Finch. She decides to quit, but her fellow secretaries convince her to stay: she's living their dream of marrying an executive and becoming Cinderella, Darling. In the 1995 revival, this song was replaced with a reprise of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, with the lyrics suggesting ways in which a girl can get hold of a man's financial assets.

The book tells Finch, "So you are now a Vice-President.... You have done beautifully. Unless you are Vice-President in Charge of Advertising.... There is only one thing that can save you: you must get a brilliant idea," warns the Book. Bud Frump slyly tells Finch about his idea for a treasure hunt. Finch loves the idea, unaware that Biggley has already heard the idea and shot it down. Finch bounces the idea off Rosemary, who tells him that, no matter what, she'd be Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm (reprise).

Hedy tells Biggley she is extremely unhappy with her secretarial duties and is leaving for California. He begs her to stay, and they declare their love (Love From a Heart of Gold). In the executive washroom, Frump assures the others that Finch's plan will fail and, with it, his career. Finch enters and gives himself a pep talk, telling himself I Believe in You.

Finch presents "his" idea: he will hide five thousand shares of company stock in each of the ten offices around the country and give the audience weekly clues as to their whereabouts. Biggley is about to reject this idea yet again, when Finch explains that each clue will be given by the scantily-dressed World Wide Wicket Girl: Miss Hedy LaRue.

During the first television show, Hedy is asked to swear on a Bible that she doesn't know the location of the prizes. Hedy, whom Biggley had told the night before where the treasure was hidden, panics and reveals the locations to the entire television audience. The book tells Finch, "How To Handle a Disaster. ...we suggest that your best bet is to review the first chapter of this book: How to Apply for a Job."

Treasure hunters have wrecked World Wide Wicket Company offices across the country, and the executives, including Chairman of the Board Wally Womper, are waiting in Biggley's office for Finch's resignation. Rosemary tells Finch "I Believe in You". About to sign his letter of resignation, Finch mentions that he'll probably be going back to washing windows. Womper is drawn to Finch as he, too, was a washer of windows and that they both "had a book", Wally's book being a book of betting records. Finch manages to place the blame for the treasure hunt on Bud, also mentioning that Frump is Biggley's nephew. Womper is about to "clean house from top to bottom", when Finch steps in on everyone's behalf. Finch tells the executives that they're all part of the Brotherhood of Man. Everyone is spared, except Frump, who is fired because he is Biggley's nephew.

Biggley is still president, Womper is retiring to travel the world with his new wife, Hedy, and Finch will become Chairman of the Board. Rosemary stands by his side and inadvertently inspires him to aspire for Presidency of the United States. Bud Frump is lowered on a window-washing scaffold, outside the building, squeegee in one hand and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in the other.

Musical numbers

Act I

  • Overture
  • How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
  • Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm
  • Coffee Break
  • The Company Way
  • The Company Way (Reprise)
  • A Secretary is Not a Toy
  • Been a Long Day
  • Been a Long Day (Reprise)
  • Grand Old Ivy
  • Paris Original
  • Rosemary
  • Finale to Act I
Act II

  • Cinderella, Darling
    • 1995 revival replacement: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (reprise)
  • Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm (Reprise)
  • Love From a Heart of Gold
  • I Believe in You
  • I Believe in You (Reprise)
  • Brotherhood of Man
  • Finale: The Company Way

Productions

With Robert Morse as Finch, the irrepressible window washer, Bonnie Scott as his secretary Rosemary, Charles Nelson Reilly as his nemesis Bud Frump, and Rudy Vallee as the stuffy company president, the show, opened on October 14, 1961. It was nominated for several Tony Awards and won in the areas of Best Musical, Best Book, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Conductor and Musical Director, Best Producers of a Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Robert Morse, and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Charles Nelson Reilly.

A London production opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre on March 28, 1963 and ran for 520 performances. It was also directed by Abe Burrows and Bob Fosse, and featured a new London cast.

A Broadway revival opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 23, 1995 and ran for 548 performances. It was directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Wayne Cilento. Matthew Broderick won a Tony for his performance as Finch, and Rosemary was played by Megan Mullally. In a pre-recorded performance, Walter Cronkite was the Book Voice. One of the later replacements for Mullally would be Broderick's future wife, Sarah Jessica Parker.

In 2005, How to Succeed... headlined the Summer festival at the Chichester Festival Theatre for 4 months, starring such English celebrities as Alistair McGowan ("The Big Impression") as the voice of the book, and James Bolam as JB Biggley. The revival won many awards including 3 Theatre Goer's Choice Awards. The run closed at the end of the Summer season in September.

Film adaptation

In 1967, United Artists released a film adapted and directed by David Swift. Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, Michele Lee who replaced Bonnie Scott as Rosemary during the show's Broadway run, Sammy Smith, and Ruth Kobart recreated their roles for the film, and Bob Fosse again choreographed.

Response

In his review of the original 1961 Broadway production, New York Times critic Howard Taubman stated, "It stings mischievously and laughs uproariously...It belongs to the blue chips among modern musicals. Let Wall Street and Madison Avenue tremble as the rest of us rejoice." John Chapman of the Daily News said, "Loesser is the perfect man for his end of the show - the songs; for he is a cynic without being tough. He has not put in a note of music or a syllable of lyric that doesn't carry the story along." Richard Watts, Jr. of the New York Post wrote, "In its first performance at the 46th St. Theater Saturday night, its satire, humor, book, music, lyrics, cast, staging, choreography, setting and general gaiety of spirit combined in a smooth, fast pattern of expert showmanship to make the occasion a delightful event."

Cast lists

Cast of various productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
J. Pierrepont Finch Rosemary Pilkington Bud Frump J.B. Biggley Smitty Hedy LaRue Miss Jones Book Voice
Original 1961 Broadway Robert Morse Bonnie Scott Charles Nelson Reilly Rudy Vallee Claudette Sutherland Virginia Martin Ruth Kobart
Original 1963 London Warren Berlinger Patricia Michael David Knight Billy De Wolfe Josephine Blake Eileen Gourlay Olive Lucius
1995 Broadway Revival Matthew Broderick Megan Mullally Jeff Blumenkrantz Ronn Carroll Victoria Clark Luba Mason Lillias White Walter Cronkite

References

External links

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