There's at least one reason why every musical theater aficionado should attend performances by the Village Light Opera Group. Where else in the modern world can one go to hear the brilliant orchestrations of classic musicals played live and unamplified by a full orchestra comprised of top-notch musicians?
A sort of high-level community theater, VLOG also tends to offer excellent singing voices in its productions. Combined with the splendid sound of those orchestrations--invariably conducted by the company's resident musical director, Ronald W. Knoll (Christiane's father, for all you Jekkies)--this makes for some musically sumptuous evenings. In particular, I'll never forget VLOG's magnificent production of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella some years ago.
That said, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is an odd choice for the group. Though written by the same great composer/lyricist who gave us the operatic ... Happy Fella, the brightly satirical How to Succeed... depends largely on extra-musical qualities--e.g., polished comedic acting, skilled stage direction, top-notch choreography--to make its full effect. These are areas in which VLOG does not excel.
The cast is inconsistent. As J. Pierrepont Finch, David Simon displays an excellent singing voice and good timing but, alas, fails to communicate the charm and sincerity necessary to make this antiheroic hero palatable. (It's a tricky role, which may be why actors of the caliber of Robert Morse and Matthew Broderick have been required to make the passive/aggressive Mr. Finch seem appealing rather than annoying.) James Donegan takes the dead-end route of playing Finch's nemesis, Bud Frump, like a screaming queen; it didn't work when Jeff Blumenkrantz tried it in the Broadway revival, and it doesn't work here. Harry Crossfield, as big-shot J.B. Biggley, somehow manages to nail a number of laughs despite the fact that he has only a nodding acquaintance with his lines. (Can you say "paraphrase"?)
On balance, the women fare better. Nicole Dalton sings well, acts with conviction, and is generally adorable as Finch's girlfriend, Rosemary Pilkington. Paulette Fasching--who bears quite a resemblance to Karen Ziemba--is a lively Smitty. Lauri Shemaria is somewhat amusing as she imitates both Vivian Blaine (Guys and Dolls) and Jean Hagen (Singing in the Rain) in the role of the office sex-bomb, Hedy LaRue. And, until she comes up short on volume in the big "Brotherhood of Man" number, Lydia Gladstone is fine as Biggley's secretary, Miss Jones--if a bit too young and attractive to be fully credible in the role of a battle-axe.
The production careens back and forth between professionalism and amateurism. While Kristin Yungkurth's costumes are colorful and fun in a perfect, heightened '60s style, Anthony J. DeMeglio's lighting is execrable--or it may just have seemed so because of the way the cues were run on opening night (when they were run at all). The best that can be said for Kristin Cupillari's choreography is that it doesn't ape Bob Fosse.
Though his program bio leads one to expect work comparable to that of Hal Prince or George Abbott, director William Koch hasn't achieved either a cohesive tone for the production or the lightning-fast pacing necessary to make the show's humor fly. Including intermission, the performance runs a full three hours. (If you're going to do How To Succeed... without making judicious cuts in the funny but lengthy book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert, you have got to keep it moving!)
Still, VLOG's How to Succeed... is a must, if only for the opportunity to hear Robert Ginzler's phenomenal orchestrations as they were meant to be heard. Coming up at VLOG in August is a co-production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific with the Philbeach Society of London. I'll be there to worship at the shrine of Robert Russell Bennett--and, if you know what's good for you, you'll join me.
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