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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre)

A spirited cast throw themselves into this dated but high-octane musical

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Adam Pettigrew as J Pierrepont Finch
© David Ovenden

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was first performed in 1961, and is evidently considered enough of a classic to be revived on Broadway as recently as 2011, with Daniel Radcliffe taking the lead role.

It's a spirited satire on the perils of the American dream, based on the book by Shepherd Mead. But while Frank Loesser's tunes have travelled the intervening 50-plus years with their bounce and vigour intact, the story itself has not fared as well.

It charts the rise of J Pierrepont Finch, an ambitious window cleaner who climbs through the company ranks at indecent speed by applying simple rules he's learned from a self-help manual.

Along the way he's talent-spotted as a man with potential to provide a gorgeous home and trouble-free future for Rosemary, one of the company's legion of secretaries.

And there lies the problem. The women in this show are so two-dimensional as to be borderline caricatures.

Watching the men groping, grabbing and ogling them all with impunity may have seemed hilarious in 1961, but has an uncomfortable taint today. The female characters are husband hunters or man-eaters (literally, in one vignette). Even sparky Smitty – who at least seems to have a sense of humour – crumbles at the very idea of Rosemary ditching the self-serving Finch.

And that's if they're young. The cheating boss's middle-aged wife is dismissed out of hand as a tiresome nuisance who's too dull even to make it on stage, while his mature PA is played as a charmless tyrant.

But setting its old-school sexual politics aside, the gifted cast throw themselves at How to Succeed with tremendous energy, directed with precision and imagination by Dawn Kalani Cowle.

Alyssa Nicol communicates all Rosemary's quiet ambition, and her soaring vocal range does full justice to her numbers.

And Adam Pettigrew as J Pierrepont Finch is handsome enough to call to mind a young Tom Cruise. With his relaxed charm and gleaming smile, he's a charismatic leading man.

But the star of the night is Josh Wilmott as sly, sinuous Bud Frump, the boss's nephew and Finch's deadly rival.

Rubber-faced Wilmott has a wonderful comic presence as he oozes onto the stage, and uses his physicality to great effect as he plots Finch's downfall.

The ensemble are terrific in the big dance numbers, with crisp choreography by Brendan Matthew, and the band under Aaron Clingham produce a rousing sound in a small space.

Daisy Jane Turner's costumes have a convincing period feel, with the "Paris Original" dress a particular success.

At a full three hours, it's a long show. But even if some might find aspects of it… trying, it's one that on many levels does, ultimately, succeed.