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How to Succeed

at Agassiz Nov. 16, 17, 21, 22, 23

By James Lardner

AT LAST: a show designed expressly for stoned-out-of-their-mind couples trapped somewhere in the vast limbo which divides Soldiers Field from bed. He who hopes to make that slow journey, be it this weekend or next, may bank on a square deal from the folks over at Agassiz. Nothing quicker than the eye, no muted colors figurative or literal, no nuances at all will greet the man who puts his trust in Grant-in-Aid and has the sense to do it soon.

For those who care, this year's sobering-up session goes under the name How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. It's a fine musical and always has been, therefore a joy to behold. Frank Loesser's songs remain smart and fast, and the Abe Burrows-Jack Weinstock-Willie Gilbert book might have been written by bonafide comic geniuses. The story, it is true, proves nothing of anything, but for beauty of construction and quantity of laughs it can't be faulted.

How to Succeed details the rise of one J. Pierrepont Finch from nowhere to family and fortune, aided by a get-rich-quick book plus a bravely installed deus ex machina. This time around, one Pope Brock gives life to Finch, and he does so with a modicum of class. Brighter lights, on the other hand, shine to every side, not the least of which is Timothy Hall as J. B. Biggley, the boss of World-Wide Wickets where Finch is employed. Hall handles a considerably larger portion of the show's laughs than did Rudy Vallee in the B'way original, partly because of the competition but also because he really knows his way around a line. In several and smaller roles, Terry Emerson demonstrates a comparably effective comic presence, while Bill Kiely doesn't get the chance to and doesn't.

The women. As Rosemary, Carol Simon has all the right ideas, looks the part, and cries out only for a little more poise. As Hedy, Beverly Fanger has somewhat too much poise and wants only a little restraint. A lesson to both of them, and to would be comediennes the world over, is Shannon Thompson, miscast but happily so as Smitty.

To downgrade the set, as I'd like to, is doubtless to cross a few hundred thousand slave laborers. But Agassiz has a genuinely attractive proscenium, and one should no sooner replace it with yellow cardboard than paste floral wallpaper over the Sistine Chapel. Good notions run rampant through Pat Pilz's scenery, always to materialize several sizes too large, several colors too bright, and several pounds too collapsible. They have built the Great Wall of China where a picket fence was called for.

Josh Rubins, the director, appears to have distributed his time and energy so evenly among the show's various departments, that a central hand is nowhere particularly evident. The blocking and pacing lack discipline, but the cast had obvious technical difficulties, like falling flats, to contend with last night, so maybe matters will improve ere long. Whether or no, idle visions and foolish comparisons aside, they've got a good thing going.

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