Long before “Mad Men” made ’60s-era office politics a topic of weekly conversation, the 1961 Broadway musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” tackled the subject, albeit in a much nicer, singable manner.
The singable part is not surprising as Frank Loesser, the lyricist and composer of the 1950 musical “Guys and Dolls,” wrote the music and lyrics for “How to Succeed,” with the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert. Not only did “How to Succeed” win seven Tony Awards, it took the Pulitzer Prize in 1962.
It’s the musical part that attracted the attention of McLennan Community College theater instructor Kelly Parker, who is directing the McLennan Theatre production that opens a three-night run Thursday.
“Musically, it’s such a smart show and the script is so tight,” he said. “It’s so good, so complex . . . a good, accessible show for college-age kids.”
The show, whose 2011 revival starred “Harry Potter” actor Daniel Radcliffe, follows the young, ambitious J. Pierrepoint Finch (Alec Ehringer) as he works his way up the ladder in the World Wide Wicket Co. Finch employs the advice he finds in the book that gives the musical its name, moving from the mailroom toward the boardroom, with help from Rosemary Pilkington (Hannah Young) and her colleagues in the secretarial pool.
Finch learns how to get on the good side of company president J.B. Biggley (Jonah Hardt), inventing a false allegiance to Biggley’s alma mater, Old Ivy, while watching the hazards presented by Biggley’s scheming nephew, Bud Frump (Joshua Purvis); Biggley’s mistress, Hedy LaRue (Abigail Woodward); and threatened junior executives.
Finch’s climb toward the top takes place in a corporate world where women were largely limited to the secretarial pool and viewed more as objects of romance and lust than colleagues and competitors. Among the songs in “How to Succeed . . . “ are “A Secretary Is Not a Toy” and “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm.”
“It’s now a period piece,” Parker said. “But it’s interesting in that it’s almost a predictor of all the social norms about to be turned on their head.”
The McLennan Theatre production features a cast of 32 with musical direction by Daniel Ferris and choreography by longtime MCC choreographer Jerry MacLauchlin. MacLauchlin retired from MCC in 2015, but came back from retirement to fill in for dance instructor Melissa Edwards, out this spring for health reasons, Parker said.
Renowned Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse, with whom MacLauchlin worked as a Broadway dancer in the 1960s and 1970s, retooled much of the dance in “How to Succeed . . .,” which makes it familiar territory for MacLauchlin. “Having Jerry back has been great,” the director said.
“How to Success in Business Without Really Trying” opens with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the Ball Performing Arts Center. The 15th annual Hearts in the Arts Gala will precede Thursday’s performance with a 6 p.m. reception at The Northwood.