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How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Abe Burrows/Frank Loesser Chichester Festival Theatre, 6 May 2005 Joe McFadden; Fiona Dunn; James Bolam

Job-seeker to Chairman of the Board in quick easy stages by trying hard!

With an ingratiating smile and manufactured charm, and by following the precepts of Shepherd Mead in his best-selling eponymous book, job seeker ex-window cleaner Joe McFadden, as the faux naïf J Pierrepont Finch leapfrogs his way to the top in this mis-titled musical which makes for a happy evening at Chichester. His equally determined fellow aspirant, Fiona Dunn, Rosemary from the typing pool, spots his potential and is 'happy to keep his dinner warm' until she has caught her fish for the inevitable happy ending.

The blurred borders of opera/musical theatre become ever vaguer. Maazel's vanity production of his show at Covent Garden has plenty of spoken dialogue and has been rubbished by most critics as a poor musical rather than opera; Bernstein's tired and dated On The Town, original in its day, could not compare with the film in ENO's revival at The Coliseum. Abe Burrows & Frank Loesser's brash, brassy triumph comes up fresh as new paint, its theme, how to get on and push the other guy down, ever topical. Classic musicals have the benefit of long gestation to build upon (three librettists en route here) and this one has a brilliant creative team to make its revival look good in Chichester's enviable open-plan auditorium, with slick scene changes before your eyes.

Sophie Louise Dann (Smitty) keeps a check on sentimentalism creeping into this wholly amoral fable. The gangly David Langham steals his scenes as Bud Frump, the perennial failure who stays at the bottom of the pile despite nepotistic 'influence', James Bolam, the fraught Big Boss, knits to keep calm and Annette McLaughlin does a great Marilyn Munroe act as his dumb mistress, Hedy La Rue. Minor reservations from Musical Pointers about the ten man and two woman band; in tuttis the three saxs and three brass left Megan Pound's sole violin inaudible at the back, and the electronic grand piano was tinny. Accompaniments to the more intimate moments were sensitive and the 'sound design' generally worked well.

Martin Duncan's production, with a strong cast supported by team including designers Francis O'Connor and Alison Chitty, and including choreographer Stephen Mears, merits transfer to the metropolis, where the Burrows/Loesser Guys and Dolls is coming back to the Piccadilly Theatre this month.

Meanwhile a journey to Chichester is recommended to all opera lovers, who may have suffered disappointments recently, to enjoy the wit and vitality of musical theatre at its best; during May 1/3rd of the tickets for all performances are £10 only.

Box Office 01243 781312 or book online.

See also Michael Billington in The Guardian ****

© Peter Grahame Woolf