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Greater London
posted/updated: 18 May 2019 -
How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, Willie Gilbert; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser; based on How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying by Shepherd Mead
society/company: Sedos (directory)
performance date: 16 May 2019
venue: The Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ EC4Y 8EQ
reviewer/s: Paul Johnson (Sardines review)

Photo: Stephen Russell


We very rarely give amateur productions a star-rating as it suggests directly comparing them to their professional counterparts, which is hardly fair - especially with musicals. However, I’m very happy to drop this policy for this particular production…

Going to watch Sedos in action, resident company at the Bridewell Theatre, pretty much guarantees a great night out. The non-professional society’s latest offering – which just so happens to be a musical – is the 1961 Broadway hit, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, by Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert… based on the novel by Shepherd Mead. Quite simply, the show is wonderful and should serve as a shining beacon throughout across the entire non-professional sector. Whether you see the same show produced at at the Union Theatre, Young Vic, Charing Cross Theatre, Jermyn Street Theatre or any other professional off-West End/Fringe venue, it will not get any better than this.

Amateur groups around the capital pay attention; this is how to put on a musical! This fifty-eight-year-old show (which also played the West End in 1963) makes a fitting return to London and is probably as close to earning a ‘professional’ tag as you can get. However, as the programme cast-list states, everybody onstage has a ‘day job’, albeit a teacher, journalist, intern, civil servant, PA or a pilates exercise specialist. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. So, if you’re lucky enough to grab a spare ticket at the Bridewell box office, you’ll take plenty of inspiration from one of the country’s best amateur companies at the very top of its game. It just goes to show what the right amount of energy, focus, attitude and creativity can do if your approach is to be the best.

It's got nothing to do with budget either; Andrew James' design is clever but modest and doesn't employ any professional wizardry.

In How to Succeed… Pierrepont Finch – a window cleaner – has obtained a self-help book which offers advice on how to get ahead in the business world, whether it involved being sneaky, dishonest, manipulative, underhand or controlling… while avoiding as much work as possible. The book’s words of wisdom actually appear to work and, before long, young J.P. Finch not only joins the World Wide Wicket Company but finds himself rapidly promoted through the company ranks. Not only that, but Finch also meets, Rosemary, the girl of his dreams in the company’s vast pool of female secretaries (not much time for #metoo sixty years ago!).

Bud Frump (who obviously doesn’t own a copy of Finch’s book) nephew of the company’s big boss, J.B. Biggley isn’t impressed by the new guy who threatens to leap-frog over him and so he sets about attempting to bring about Finch’s downfall. Will he succeed?

In a show with a heavily featured ensemble, Director Peter Shimmin and Choreographer, Samantha Miller, have worked wonders to instil such discipline into the scenes and musical routines. Backed up by Michael Cannon’s nicely balanced 12-piece band and a very strong backstage team of people, the result is two hours of crystal clear diction and singing with precision timing all round.

James Leggat leads the cast as Finch and doesn’t disappoint. The executive’s focused and successful rise through the ranks is never in question. Equally, Matt Young as the jealous Bud, revels in playing the baddie without hamming it up. However, I think I must pick out Lauren Clarke’s ‘Smitty’ as the performance of the night, with Lora Jones’ voluptuous Hedy La Rue giving her a strong run for her money. The female contingent may have been a repressed lot in 1961 but, in this show, even though the secretaries may be portrayed to accept their lot in life, they also very much give as good as they get, and Lauren Clarke’s highly commendable performance typifies that – as well as being very funny.

Elsewhere, despite the entire company being excellent, Miranda Evans makes her mark with a stunning vocal as Rosemary, as does the operatic Tessa Kennedy as Miss Jones.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is playing at the Bridewell Theatre until Saturday, 25th May. More at: 

Photo: Stephen Russell

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