A massive neon ladder sits centre stage in this boisterous production of 1961 musical satire ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’. Why? It's the corporate ladder, duh! This is no place for subtlety: instead, it's a tale from the bad old days of corporate sleaze, packed with dangerously sexy secretaries and obnoxiously nepotistic bosses who young hero Finch must step right over on his way to the top.
Written by ‘Guys and Dolls’ guy Frank Loesser, the musical's massively popular in the US: there was a big Broadway revival starring Daniel Radcliffe not so long ago. But UK audiences haven't traditionally seen the allure of its overly jaunty take on grim capitalist skulduggery. However, Georgie Rankcom's joyfully queer production has a better chance than most, upturning the original's bleak heteronormativity by casting trans performers in key roles.
Gabrielle Friedman takes on the central part of plucky everyguy Finch and plays it straight, a foil to the huge personalities around him. As Finch attempts to work his way out of the mailroom of World Wide Wickets and into the boardroom, he’s helped by his sweet doormat secretary/girlfriend Rosemary. In a standout performance, Allie Daniel subverts this role with velvety-voiced glee – she sweetly sings that she's ‘happy to keep his dinner warm’ but then breaks into a baritone impression of her husband that suggests she's more than a match for him.
Tracie Bennett drags up with great success to play JB Biggley, the boss that Finch perpetually greases up to til he’s as slick as a deep fat fryer, while Elliot Gooch is wonderfully obnoxious as entitled office nepo baby Bud Frump.
This isn't sophisticated humour, and even musical theatre fans who are seasoned in the art of suppressing their feminist principles in the service of a good ditty might find their spirits rebelling at blithely tasteless songs like ‘A Secretary Is Not A Toy’. But what they lack in twenty-first-century values, they make up for in creative staging: the cast members whip out kazoos to replicate the sound of Finch's electric razor, or tumble all over the floor as they howl about their coffee cravings.
Is it enough? Essentially, this is a show for true musical theatre fans who'll delight in its knowing, rambunctuous, queer take on a retro classic – one which culminates in the unironically rousing banger ‘Brotherhood of Man’. It's the kind of show that'll hopefully never be 'timely' again, but is still a hell of a lot of fun.