Review Round Up: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Southwark Playhouse

We take a look at what is being said about this revival of the musical, directed by Georgie Rankcom and starring Tracie Bennett.

(c)Pamela Raith Photography

WhatsOnStage: *** “How To Succeed… boasts a decent enough collection of songs – brassy, exuberant and occasionally sentimental – but it seldom reaches the sublime heights of brilliance and invention of that beloved earlier show or the same composer-lyricist’s quasi-operatic The Most Happy Fella. Instead the numbers here, bouncy and agreeable as they are, feel very much at the service of Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert’s wise-cracking script.”

British *** “So we have not only a sparky Gabrielle Friedman from Seattle as the artfully ambitious J.Pierrepont Finch but the peerless Tracie Bennett – so memorable as a declining Judy Garland ten years back – bringing all her panache and elegant handling of classic lyrics to the role of J.B. Biggley the President of Worldwide Wickets. She is indeed a treat, her swagger carrying this lightweight, too-silly-for-sincerity entertainment.”

Evening Standard: ** “The best songs are in the second act: the shimmering, self-loving I Believe in You, with its slinky counterpoint sung by a jealous rival: and the anthemic Brotherhood of Man, which has no connection to the story but ties everything up in a big, dumb bow. This gives Grace Kanyamibwa a chance to unveil a powerful soul voice, but it’s too little, too late.”

The Reviews Hub: **** 1/2 ” The result is a production which reinvigorates a musical that, despite its pedigree as a Broadway show that earned multiple Tony Awards and even a Pulitzer Prize, has become one of the lesser known of the canon. By giving How to Succeed… a hilarious new lease of life, Georgie Rankcom and their team illustrate the one lesson we always hope to see on stage: how to succeed at musical theatre by trying really hard.”

Gay Times: **** ” it’s a pared-back production that’s never going to scale the same heights as a Broadway show, but this fun and inclusive revival captures the essence of the musical in an intimate setting.”

(c)Pamela Raith Photography

West End Best Friend: ***** “Against the backdrop of simple vibrant staging, working well in the modern Southwark Playhouse, with a performance in the round adding depth, and numerous ladders adding height; you’d never know that this cast hadn’t been doing this every night for years, effortlessly moving around the small stage in a polished manner.”

Broadway World: *** “This is a production that sets its face towards a problematic show, packed with the good and the bad of musical theatre. It meets that challenge by imposing a 21st century sensibility on some very 20th century norms, rather than excavating the text for opportunities to subvert it. It’s a partial success, but there’s probably another, more subtle less garish, iteration of this show to come before we find a palatable home for the great songs and the not-so-great sentiments.”

Musical Theatre Review: ***** “However, this is a fast-paced show, expertly directed, and impeccably performed. It has the danger and edge of anything written more recently but with all the craft and gorgeous score associated with musical theatre’s golden age. It’s rough and playful energy may not be for everyone, but for me and I’m sure many more its considerable efforts pay off and it succeeds spectacularly. You will laugh until it hurts, until it becomes a serious medical emergency, and still thank the cast.”

London *** “I don’t know how much this musical really has to say about an era where we’re more concerned with WFH and Zoom etiquette, nor is it nimble enough to be purely a comic skit. But, thanks to some winning performances and Loesser’s hummable tunes, it’s generally a good day at the office.”

All That Dazzles: *** “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying is a mad slice of musical theatre but one that comes with a lot of joy. Though this production is not without its flaws, there is enough going for it to make this a truly enjoyable show – namely its phenomenal cast, particularly the standout performances from Tracie Bennett and Allie Daniel, as well as some fantastic songs and a great comic story.”

(c)Pamela Raith Photography

The Stage: *** “Georgie Rankcom’s production of Frank Loesser’s classic musical, starring Tracie Bennett and Gabrielle Friedman, is zany but uneven.”

Time Out: *** “Is it enough? Essentially, this is a show for true musical theatre fans who’ll delight in its knowing, rambunctuous, queer take on a retro classic – one which culminates in the unironically rousing banger ‘Brotherhood of Man’. It’s the kind of show that’ll hopefully never be ‘timely’ again, but is still a hell of a lot of fun.”

Theatre **** “This production is well worth seeing for the musicality, production values and cast performances.”

London Theatre 1: **** “Director Georgie Rankcom has made an interesting choice to ignore gender when casting the show and, whilst I initially had doubts, it works really well. Tracie Bennett in particular seems to have a lot of fun playing Biggley and gives a wonderful impression of the archetypal ‘boss man’ in 1960s corporate America. Elliot Gooch hams it up beautifully as the spoilt nephew Bud and plays the role of a camp pantomime villain in wonderful attire. Allie Daniel’s as Rosemary Pilkington stood out for me as the performance of the night. With a wonderful stage presence, singing voice and ability to convey so much with a simple look, Daniel really excelled in a cast of great performers.”

The musical continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 17th June.

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