Review: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Wilton's Music Hall)

Benji Sperring directs the first major London revival of Frank Loesser’s musical in 50 years

Half a century ago, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Fast forward 55 years and Frank Loesser's musical feels more than a touch outdated despite this company really trying to prove otherwise.

J Pierrepont Finch (recently played on Broadway by Daniel Radcliffe) is a young window cleaner who rises through the ranks of the World Wide Wicket Company with the aid of the titular self-help book. Through clever schemes and misdirection he navigates business politics and the company's organogram. But while Marc Pickering is brilliant as the debonair schemester – employing his consummate comic timing at any opportunity – it's hard to find a reason to actually want him to succeed. In fact, it's often quite the opposite as he swindles those around him and repeatedly shuns love interest Rosemary – the usually great Hannah Grover doing her best with an awfully written role.

With the exception of Pickering, Grover and the ever-versatile Lizzii Hills as saucy secretary Hedy La Rue, the company and production feel amateurish. Lucy Pankhurst's jerky and rigid choreography does nothing to help this with most of the numbers feeling confined by the relatively small stage. The beautiful surrounds of Wilton's Music Hall should be an ideal setting for Mike Lees' art deco-inspired design, but the set suffers from being cheaply made and malfunctions on several occasions – the lift doors really didn't want to work as they should.

In recent productions of The Toxic Avenger and Shock Treatment, director Benji Sperring has excelled in taking forgotten musicals and sending them up, glam and ham, to great effect. But while this revival has some glam, Lees' bright pop art costumes for instance, there's just far too much ham from the ensemble who try harder than a pantomime dame to eke out every last laugh.

Loesser's music is largely forgettable – "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm" and "Been a Long Day" are ear worms for the wrong reasons – and the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert (too many cooks?) is stuffed with old-fashioned chauvinism and corny one-liners – "An emotional involvement can only lead to getting involved… emotionally."

How to succeed with this musical? Perhaps best to put the book back on the shelf and try another.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying runs at Wilton's Music Hall until 22 April.