Photo: Pamela Raith

We were intrigued to see How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – it’s a show we’ve not reviewed before, but it has an impressive resumé. With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (Guys and Dolls), the original 1961 Broadway production picked up seven Tony Awards and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It rarely plays in London and hasn’t had a major revival anywhere for a number of years now, so when we saw a production was to open at the intimate Southwark Playhouse we knew we needed to check it out. Well, that, and the press release told us that Michelle Visage would be playing the voice of The Book.

Being in a space like this, we weren’t expecting anything of the same size as a Broadway musical but this small-scale production impresses nonetheless. The 10-strong cast and 5-piece band bring the material to life; in a nutshell it’s a show about chancer J Pierrepoint Finch (Gabrielle Friedman), a plucky window cleaner who tries to make it in the world of business armed only with a ‘how to succeed’ manual. Entering the World Wide Wicket Company as an assistant in the post room, he begins a charm offensive to try and rise the ranks to Vice President of the company run by JB Biggley (Tracie Bennett).

At its heart, this is a satire about masculinity and gender roles, and this is pulled into sharper focus with gender-blind casting (which sees lots of queer excellence on this stage – we love to see it). It’s a smart move which serves the text and songs – which are now more than 60 years old – rather well. The show is full of humour, too; while it sometimes feels like it could go further, it does nonetheless satisfyingly send up the business world and its impenetrable jargon.

The songs impress, too; they may not be as well-known as some from the golden age of Broadway musicals, but there are several fine numbers here. From tender ballad ‘Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm’ to the hilarious ‘Paris Original’ or showstopper ‘Brotherhood of Man’ – complete with impressive choreography – there are plenty of highlights delivered by this talented ensemble. There’s some fantastic acting here, too – we particularly enjoyed Allie Daniel, stealing the show as Rosemary Pilkington in a portrayal that is both sensitive and hilariously funny; her comic timing is flawless, as is her physical comedy.

We had a great evening watching How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – it’s a pared-back production that’s never going to scale the same heights as a Broadway show, but this fun and inclusive revival captures the essence of the musical in an intimate setting. Not every song here is a winner, and some of the text is starting to show its age, and we noted a handful of tech issues on press night which will hopefully resolve over the course of the run – but none of these are major issues in what is, overall, a thoroughly enjoyable show. Well worth checking out.

GAY TIMES gives How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying – 4/5

More information can be found here.