From the moment he appears dangling on a high-rise window-washer's perch as the ambitious J. Pierrepont Finch, the 21-year-old Radcliffe proves he can carry a major musical on his five-foot-five frame -- even a show such as this one, which shows slight signs of wear after 50 years. Indeed, there's a good possibility that a Tony Award is in his immediate future.
In How to Succeed, the seemingly innocent Finch finagles his way through the echelons of World Wide Wickets, with a little help from secretary-cum-love interest Rosemary (Rose Hemingway) and while battling trouble from whiny Bud Frump (the wily Christopher J. Hanke), nephew of company CEO J.B. Biggley (John Larroquette).
Radcliffe takes charge of the Hirshfeld stage with a smile, a direct approach to all his lines, and a way of winkingly bringing the audience in on the fun. And if his voice doesn't rival Josh Groban's, it nonetheless has its own warm appeal. He also energetically demonstrates an astonishing penchant for dancing, especially in his show-stopping performances in two of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser's standout numbers, "Grand Old Ivy" and "Brotherhood of Man."
In the rousing, extremely clever "Grand Old Ivy," Radcliffe shares the stage with Broadway newcomer Larroquette, who adds significantly to the hilarity. What's more, at six-foot-four and standing next to Radcliffe, he becomes one-half of a wonderful long-and-short-of-it sight gag that garners laughs many times during the proceedings.
Much like he did in the recent revival of Promises, Promises, Ashford has engineered a show featuring a slightly dated 1960s view of life in a faceless company beehive. Derek McLane's basic set with its tall shifting panels emphasizes the beehive look and its metaphorical implications, while the entire ensemble is smartly dressed by Catherine Zuber in period fashions. Many of Ashford's dances suggest he's either repeating himself -- or giving him the benefit of the doubt -- spinning variations on previous work. He does, however, introduce several winning innovations, such as a squad of football players wearing 1920s outfits for "Grand Old Ivy."
Moreover, Ashford has surrounded Radcliffe and Larroquette with a company completely up to the demands put on them. Hemingway is a perky Rosemary and even makes work "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm" -- the pre-feminist declaration of marital bliss that is the tuner's most retrograde item; Tammy Blanchard puts va-voom into sexpot Hedy La Rue, Biggley's brassy mistress; and Mary Faber and Ellen Harvey provide oomph to the secretarial force as Smitty and Miss Jones, respectively.
Still, if anyone truly succeed in making this show a worthwhile entertainment, it's Radcliffe, who has a bright future in musical theater if he chooses to pursue it.
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