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Criss and Bridges ‘Succeed’ on Broadway

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.


“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”: Let’s face it, that’s the ideal Broadway show for a second-semester senior to see. This break I saw the show with my mother at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City. Straight off the bat I want you to know that I loved it.

For those of you unfamiliar with this musical, “How to Succeed in Business” is about a young man named J. Pierrepont Finch, called Ponty, who buys a book that is guaranteed to help him rise to the top of a company of his choosing. The audience gets to watch Ponty maneuver the corporate world of the ’60s through humor and really fun musical numbers as he deals with his somewhat eccentric boss, J.B. Biggley; falls in love with a secretary, Rosemary Pilkington; and vies for promotions with Bud Frump, the boss’ weasel-like nephew.

Until recently, Daniel Radcliffe of “Harry Potter” fame was starring as Ponty. My mother and I did not realize that Radcliffe was no longer in the show, though it would not have altered our decision to see it; instead Darren Criss of “Glee” had just taken over from Radcliffe the day before. It was only Criss’ second performance as Ponty. Although I watch “Glee,” I am certainly not obsessed with it and was a bit unnerved by the giggling girls who were hugging Criss’ likeness on a poster outside the theater before the show. Of course, it was really a no-win situation as, when Criss, who is scheduled to be with the show until this Sunday, leaves, Nick Jonas will take over the role. So, no matter what happened, I was going to see this show with screaming girls, whether they are part of Pottermania, Gleeks or teeny-boppers.

Nevertheless, Criss was fairly good. He was very charming as Ponty, delivering each joke with a sense of panache and embracing the adorable, bowtie-wearing character. Additionally, his dancing was impeccable. During the numbers “Grand Old Ivy” and “Brotherhood of Man” he was dancing back and forth across the stage with verve and accomplishing many somewhat acrobatic dance moves with aplomb. As it was only his second show, he flubbed a few lines but he always recovered well. The biggest problem was his voice; while he has a nice voice, it is not nearly strong enough for a Broadway theater. He was often overpowered by the chorus.

To be entirely honest, when I saw who was going to be in the show, I was much more excited by who would be playing J.B. Biggley: Beau Bridges. That’s right. How cool is that? My mother and I joked that I was the only girl there younger than 30 who was more excited about Beau Bridges than Darren Criss but, come on, it was freakin’ Beau Bridges. Bridges, who was also acting in only his second performance, was very good. While he is not a singer, the role of J.B. Biggley does not really require much singing. Also, as a man in his 70s, he was unable to dance as much; after “Grand Old Ivy,” I was a tad worried he was going to have a heart attack.

His acting, however, more than made up for his limitations. Every line hit home and he truly personified J.B. Biggley. As someone who loves the 1967 movie, I was worried that I would have trouble accepting other people in the roles but I was not at all disappointed with Beau Bridges. In my mind, he is now J.B. Biggley, whereas Robert Morse, Ponty in the movie, will always be the corporate climber.

The best performance in the show, however, was from Christopher J. Hanke who played Bud Frump, J.B. Biggley’s whiny and entitled nephew. Hanke has an amazing voice and was able to be both likable and irritating, which is key for Bud. While he could have played Bud as dramatically over-the-top, Hanke kept Bud cartoonish but at the same time believable. Bud was the “most” of everything—whether that was sanctimonious, supercilious, etc.—without being too much so.

The second best performance came from Mary Faber, who played Smitty, one of the secretaries at the company. She was perfect. Her dancing was spot-on and her acting was enjoyable. Keeping with the acting of her Smitty forebears, Faber used a slightly high-pitched, nasal voice, which really rounds out the character. She sang “Been a Long Day,” one of the shows catchiest tunes, adroitly, making me wish the song had been longer. Also, as a point of interest, Mary Faber is a Brandeis graduate and earned her B.A. here in 2001.

Even though Sunday is Criss’ last performance, I highly recommend seeing the show, for which discounted tickets can be bought at TKTS. Bridges will still be in it, as well as the rest of the cast. Also, Jonas may even add to the show. My one complaint about Criss was that his voice was not strong enough, but Jonas has played concerts and knows how to project. Perhaps Jonas will improve on Criss’ performance.

Most importantly though: This show is a classic. It is fun and it is impossible to walk out of the theater not humming the show-stopping number “Brotherhood of Man.” But, if Broadway is not your thing, I highly recommend the movie. As good as I heard Radcliffe was, as good as Criss was and as good as Jonas may be, no one will ever be as adorable as Robert Morse when he sings “I Believe in You.”