How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

The Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College has opened its 1999-2000 season with customary wit and flair in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

This is a satire of the business world, though it’s a rather gentle one — no cutting, “Dilbert”-style remarks here. Just a finicky boss, a bratty nephew, and a guy who wants to rise to the top — without ever really trying.

That guy is J. Pierpont Finch (Dan Larrinaga), a window-washer who happens across a book whose title is the title of the show. He applies for a job at World Wide Wickets (following the book’s advice to work someplace where “no one has any idea what anyone else is doing”). His rise to the top is nothing short of meteoric, as he shmoozes the right people, and pretends to be from the same university as Big Cheese J.B. Biggley (Spencer Ashby).

This being a 1961 musical, there has to be a woman who falls in love with Finch, without regard to the fact that she has known him approximately one second and that he is too wrapped up in becoming successful to even pay attention to her, let alone fulfill her every dream in life by marrying her. That woman is Rosemary, played by Brenda Sue Cowley, and bravo to Cowley for giving the woman more dignity and pizzazz than she is written to have (she’s got a great voice, too).

Larrinaga is wonderful as Finch, making the scheming little liar seem perfectly lovable — a sort of Harold Hill for the corporate world, and with no less energy required. Larrinaga fills the role perfectly.

Marnie Sears’ set design is worth of mention, too. There are about a million scene changes in this show, and they all happen fast and without much dead time in between.

The show lags a little here and there; one wonders if the satiric edge has been lost in the 38 years since it was first staged, or if this production merely isn’t playing it up enough. The second-act “Brotherhood of Man” — in which Finch convinces everyone not to fire him after his disastrous bungling because we are, after all, brothers — is so big and show-stopping (thank choreographer Stephanie Howell) that we almost don’t catch the scathing satire nestled in there. The business world is just a big boys’ club, where women are merely secretaries and company party drink-servers. But that idea seems almost accepted here, not mocked like it should be.

Nonetheless, toothless or not, this is a charming, entertaining show, ably staged by the Grand Theatre.

I don't have any particular recollections of this experience, except that there were no tickets for me when I got to the theater, due to some kind of oversight. So we were told to just find a couple empty seats and hope the real owners didn't show up. This seemed like an odd way to treat a critic, but at least they didn't kiss up to me. Anyway, we found two good seats whose owners never arrived, so everything was OK, I guess.