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Review: ‘How to Succeed in Business’ is a winner

Zing plus mischief equals office politics a go-go in Lake City Playhouse’s production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Frank Loesser’s award-winning comedic, musical satire of American big business in the 1960s.

The story centers on J. Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious window washer who – supplied with charm, wit, manipulation and a how-to book – swiftly climbs the World Wide Wicket Building’s corporate ladder.

Andy Renfrew directs the cast of kooky characters young Finch meets along his opportunistic way, while music director Carolyn Jess retains the pop fizz of Loesser’s punchy, bubbly score.

Conniving yet lovable, Jett Bingman makes a believable Finch, but brings far less animation and goofiness to the role than Robert Morse’s approach in the 1967 movie version.

He shares good chemistry with secretary and love interest Rosemary Pilkington. Emily Cleveland is effective in displaying Rosemary’s sweetness and unwavering devotion to Finch. And her chipper solos in “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “Paris Original” mirror a fresh-faced Barbara Parkins when she starred as Anne Wells in the cult flick “Valley of the Dolls.”

Kent Kimball gives a commendable performance as brusque World Wide Wicket boss, J.B. Biggley, as do Brooke Wood as Biggley’s flashy and nasally mistress (picture “Nanny” Fran Drescher) and Alex Eddy as Biggley’s geeky, bratty nephew, Bud Frump – who is lazy, yet feels entitled to a promotion.

The theater’s support team, including set designers George Green and Dan Heggem, makes the most of its small space by incorporating a simple, pastel mod backdrop, stackable wooden blocks and wheeled office furniture. This setup worked for the most part, though the addition of more and larger props would have added more “umph” to certain scenes in Act I.

Ali Wade’s choreography is mostly pleasing despite some actors’ occasional missteps and an unnecessary tap routine in “Cinderella Darling” – a prissy, fluttery number better delivered sans clunky tap shoes. Wade’s creativity shines in “Coffee Break,” with its ensemble (led by Alyssa Maurer as Smitty) of slumped over, lethargic office zombies in dire need of coffee – and in the rousing fight song “Grand Old Ivy,” as the ensemble, posed as revved-up football players, pulls off an impressive group push-up.

The show finishes strong with the gospel-sounding “Brotherhood of Man.”

Friday’s audience reveled in Laticia Widman’s side-splitting portrayal of Biggley’s rigid secretary, Miss Jones, who finally lets loose by wildly gyrating and wailing like a horn-helmeted opera singer.

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