Theatrical Review – How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
By Dick Franztreb
After almost four years of not missing a single production of the El Dorado Musical Theatre, I’ve gotten to where I feel like these shows are giving me Christmas four times a year – that’s how much I look forward to them. I think I’ve found my happy place.
The current offering, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, is a wonderfully cute show. After all, it practically swept the 1962 Tony awards, and won a Pulitzer Prize that year. Feminists have to remember it’s supposed to take place in 1963, but apart from that, its appeal is timeless.
But this production builds on that timeless appeal to create a complete entertainment experience. It starts with the set, a high-ceilinged lobby of an office building, but with bright lights that are used for dramatic effect in a variety of ways. Also, there is a large screen in the back that isn’t obviously a screen, but that helps give the feeling of different rooms as the images on it are changed. I was also impressed by creative set pieces, like the elevator that is reversed on-stage to reveal what’s happening inside.
Then there’s the choreography. It feels like every dance number is different from anything else you’ve ever seen. And there are so many clever, creative choreographic and staging ideas. It seems like there is always something fresh on stage to engage your attention.
Of course, this is a musical, so how about the music? The music itself isn’t live, but the singers sure are, performing beautifully in the ensemble numbers. And I was impressed, as always, with the quality of the solo voices, especially from Julia Adams and Andrew Wilson in their lead roles. They were so poised, and each of their songs was more than a song – it was a complete performance.
That brings up the acting which, as usual, was top-notch. One might call this show a farce for all the exaggerated characters, and I thought these were handled beautifully, especially by Kaileen Teter as Hedy LaRue, Dylan Gray as Bud Frump, and Alex Levy as J.B. Biggley. I have to keep reminding myself that this is a cast of young people. Kaileen Teter is 21, but everyone else is younger than 20, with a lot of 10 and 11-year-olds. And I must admit that seeing little kids in 3-piece suits and adult wigs is just a little freaky. But then you realize that they have to be there: they’re in training to move into the lead roles in a few years. They need this on-stage experience – and everything that led up to it. And these young ones are used in creative ways that maximize their on-stage experience without detracting from the realism of the production.
I don’t have the space to comment on all the outstanding musical numbers, but one special highlight was the “Brotherhood of Man.” It was truly amazing to see 20 or so young men – many just boys, really – perform complicated (and masculine) choreography while singing their way through that number. The audience seemed to go crazy with spontaneous cheers during the performance. Sure, it was good, even great – but cheers during the number? Then I looked over across the audience and saw the dozens of young women and girls, who couldn’t restrain their enthusiasm. Driven by adolescent hormones or not, the effect of this number was electric for all of us.
I should mention here that, like all EDMT shows, this one has two casts that perform alternately. I saw the Wickets Cast, but I’m sure that the Ivy Cast is just as strong. I’m especially confident about that because I recognize members of the Ivy Cast as excellent performers from past shows.
I’ve seen community theater productions that have been total delights. I love community theater. But don’t call this community theater. If you think that you have to go to the Sacramento Community Center Theater or the Wells Fargo Pavilion for a professional theater experience, you’re sadly mistaken. Everything about EDMT productions is professional-quality. Sure they’re kids, but they’re extraordinarily talented kids who have been trained, coached and directed by professionals. And these professionals – directors, choreographers, voice coaches, costumers, etc. – together with scores of experienced volunteers helping with every aspect of stagecraft, produce a product that is immensely entertaining, time after time. EDMT shows are fun from beginning to end, and I can’t wait until the next one, which in my case will be Christmas in July.