Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, Willie Gilbert
Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser
adapted from the book How To Succeed In Business...by Shepherd Mead

INFO:

Opened at the 46th Street Theatre    October 14, 1961    1,417 Performances (and revived twice on Broadway since then)
Original Director: Abe Burrows
Original Choreographer: Bob Fosse (uncredited, but it’s the truth)
Original Producer: Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin
Original Leads: J.P. Finch: Bobby Morse   Rosemary: Bonnie Scott   Bigglie: Rudy Vallee   Bud: Charles Nelson Reilly
Cast Size: Male: 6    Female: 4    Ensemble: at least 8-6    Total Cast Size: 24+
Orchestra: 22, but certainly could be done with less, even a standard pit trio would work in small houses. They will need to play kazoo, however.
Published Script: Never published. (Run an Internet search, it’s there.)
Production Rights: MTI (Music Theater International)
Recordings: The original Broadway is great! There are numerous cast recordings.
Film: Good film version with the Broadway stars, except Ms. Scott was replaced by the adorable Michelle Lee who had taken the Broadway role over during the run. Follows with fair care the stage show, though they cut too many of the great songs. Hollywood, bah, humbug!
Other shows by the authors: Loesser: Where’s Charley, Guys And Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, the film Hans Christian Anderson   Burrows: Guys And Dolls, Can-Can, Silk Stockings
Awards: It won 7 Tony Awards the first production, but Loesser lost for best composer! It won Best Musical, Best Author, Best Performance by a Leading Actor (Morse), By a Featured Actor (Reilly), Best Direction (Burrows). It has been often revived.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

If I had a 2 ½ star rating, this show would receive it. A fantastically entertaining, clever, witty show! Just about the most fun you’re likely to have in the theater. Loesser was a master at the height of his powers, as was Burrows. Funny, pointed, timely even today to some extent, this satire about Big Business in-house politicking is simply priceless and nearly perfect. One of just a little more than a handful of musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize, this show is special.

It is not, however, for children. There’s too much talk about sex, big business, and other facts of life for an immature cast to handle it well. And it’s a pretty large show. Perfect for colleges, universities, Dinner Theater Groups, some Little Theaters, Stock, Semi-Pro and Professional companies, including Regional Theaters of size, they should do this show more often

Be Warned:

This is a show by adults and for adults, though the fun in it is silly enough for kids to snigger at. It will require significant resources to pull off. You’ll need cool costumes, especially going period with it (the late 50s). The sets are actually fairly simple, but there are a few. The dance required could be a workout. The music is rich with complexity, but easy to remember.

Smaller companies will need to get creative in their approach to this show, as it is a fairly big show. Very prudish audiences may not care for the show, but they’d need to be VERY prudish. Kids should not do this show, College age and up is okay.

The show might feel a little dated if you try to place it in the now. Keeping it in the late 50s gives it the look and feel it cries out for, and allows your designers to go to town. But it can be presented as happening in the now, and should hold up well.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: J. Pierpont Finch is a window washer for World Wide Wickets, a huge, disorganized company. He is working a window and reading a How To book that explains how he can be successful in a large company, and immediately takes it to heart, seeing a new future ahead. (“How To Succeed”) By the way, we hear what he reads, as a professional but friendly male voice is heard “in his mind” each time. Finch simply opens a window, steps into the building, and immediately walks into and knocks over J.B. Biggley the boss, who is pretty angry about it. But Finch, undeterred as he always is, meets with the head of personnel, Mr. Bratt, and slyly informs the man he’s come to him because Biggley told him to, while they were talking. (He did, sort of…)

He is observed in this first move up the ladder by Rosemary Pilkington, who falls instantly in love with him, and begs her friend, Smitty, Bratt’s secretary, to help Finch. Only he does not need help, and Smitty, without Rosemary’s starry-eyed view of Finch, sees a barracuda in the making. Rosemary instantly makes a move on Finch, and he is not unreceptive, just focused on his new career as he encounters Bud Frump, the son of J.B. Biggley’s sister, and a man with corporate ladder ideas nof his own. Frump immediately warms Finch to stay in his new job, in the Mail Room, the bottom of the corporate ladder. But Rosemary tells Finch to pay them all no mind. She believes in him, even without knowing him, after seeing him in action for just moments. She’s right. And she has a dream, for their future as man and wife, living in New Rochelle. (“Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm”)

Just as work starts in this huge corporate office, the“Coffee Break” is announced. But to Bud and everyone’s horror…there’s no coffee! The number is a comic, corporate nightmare. Meanwhile, Finch reads the book for his next step, and it warns him not to get stuck in the mail room. He reads with concern even as he delivers executive mail. This, however, was Bud’s job, and his hate for Finch is established. Rosemary lovingly advises Finch to keep going in spite of Bud, and she places a flower in Finch’s buttonhole. He’s starting to notice her, too. Then, Miss Jones, headed for the Exec suites, and Biggley’s secretary walks by, and Finch quickly offers her the flower. She asks if he knows who she is, and when she tells him, he claims surprise, because, well…Bud had described her so differently. And so, Finch is setting the table to get rid of Bud. Through Jones, Finch meets Mr. Gatch, another V.P. with an important department with an opening. Rosemary is a bit surprised that Finch gave away his flower to Miss Jones, but understands. And Rosemary sees that Finch is the opposite of a lover…he’s a businessman.

In the Mail Room. Finch cozies up to Mr. Twimble, who runs the department, and Twimble advises Finch that he lives his life entirely “The Company Way”. Asks no questions, does as he’s told. (I think this should be performed by Twimble in a self-knowing way, a bit tongue in cheek, instead of with straight-faced and utter belief. He is a man who has long ago surrendered his own views, his own ideas and drive, trading them in for security, and he somewhat ruefully is aware of it. It will help humanize proceedings that can get a bit cold about this point.) Then, Gatch enters and informs Twimble he’s been moved up to head of shipping, and they need to find his replacement. Bud, overhearing, immediately intrudes with a mention of his Uncle. But Twimble suggests Finch for the job, and Bud is furious. Finch, recalling the book’s advice, surprises everyone and suggests Bud for Twimble’s old job. Bud is thrilled, the idiot. As Bratt informs J.B. Of Bud’s promotion, he quotes Finch to the boss, speechifying about how the company should always come first. And suddenly, Finch is in line for a junior exec job in Gatch’s department. Bud is celebrating when Finch is announced as Gatch’s new Jr. Exec, and realizes he’s been played.

Rosemary is thrilled. Why, it’s just been, what, a few hours, and Finch is a Jr. Exec. She suggests they have lunch, and in spite of himself, for he’s broke, he discovers he has accepted. Then Gatch asks Finch to the Exec dining room for lunch, to celebrate his promotion, and Finch is back on track.

In Biggley’s office, the boss explains angrily to his wife that Bud will get promoted when he, Biggley, is good and ready. Then his secretary, Miss Jones, informs him a woman is there to speak to him, a Miss Hedy LaRue who says he knows her. She is a fantastic bombshell, seemingly not bright, but in actuality a man-eater who knows exactly what she’s doing. Men surround her as if she were a magnet, Bud, Bratt. Bratt meets with her about a job, and is mesmerized as they step into the office. She is instantly hired. But when men start begging to have Hedy assigned as their secretary, Bratt angrily let’s them know that “A Secretary Is Not A Toy”.

Near the corporate elevator. Miss Jones informs Biggley that yes, she called the man’s wife to let her know he’d be working late. (Uh-huh.) She reminds him that he’s playing golf with the Chairman of the Board, Wally Womper, tomorrow morning. J.B. Heads off, telling Jones to cut a check to his old Alma Mater. Finch has been listening in, and alone with Miss Jones, wishes her luck in that night’s bowling tournament. She invites him to watch, but he says he has to work tomorrow. She’s stunned. He’s planning to work on Saturday? She’s impressed. He reminds her to send a check to Biggley’s Alma Mater…what was that school, Harvard? She tells him to never mention Harvard around Biggley, he hates Harvard. Biggley’s school was Old Ivy, and their team, the Groundhogs. She departs into an elevator, and Rosemary and Smitty step up. “It’s Been A Long Day,” and Rosemary talks Finch into an inexpensive dinner out. They depart in the elevator.

Biggley enters, angry at Bud for having gotten him in trouble with his wife. Hedy sees Biggley, they’re left alone, and she lets him know she wants a better position and quick. She clearly has something on him. The plot thickens.

Next morning. Finch enters early, messes up his clothes, places several coffee cups on his desk, and makes it appear as if he’s collapsed in exhaustion at his desk, just as Biggley enters to meet Womper for golf. Biggley is stunned and impressed to find the boy there, and apparently Finch worked the night through. Finch moves the discussion to the big Groundhog game, and they share a moment rooting for their “mutual Alma Mater”, “Grand Old Ivy”. Then, Finch happens to reveal that he knits…just as he’s heard Biggley does. Finch plays every angle. Finch mentions he’s heard there’s an opening in Advertising, and things suddenly go south. Biggley warns him that there is no department more insecure than the Advertising Department. He advises Finch to stay with Gatch’s department.

Later, on the phone, Biggley complains to Gatch that he’s overworking poor Finch, and that the boy needs a secretary, even as Finch enjoys his first office. Rosemary enters to congratulate him, and to thank him for last night. Their first date, and she’s crazy about him BUT…enter his new secretary. It’s Hedy LaRue! Rosemary is instantly jealous, Finch is surprised and suspicious. He smells trouble, a set-up. Looking for help, it’s back to the bookl, and it advises Finch that if a beautiful woman is assigned as his secretary, he should check out her secretarial skills. If she has none, it’s a set-up of some sort, intended to get him in trouble. The worse her skills, the bigger her protector in the company. Finch discovers that Hedy has no skills at all. Well, secretarial skills, anyway. And he sends her with a letter to the company’s biggest horndog, Gatch, who unable to help himself immediately makes a play for her. Gatch finds himself immediately transferred to a town office in Venezuela.

A new Exec over Advertising is hired, Ovington, and a party set up to welcome him. Rosemary is assigned as Ovington’s new secretary. This means she’s invited to his reception, and needs a dress, some sort of “Paris Original”. At the party, she discovers that the dress she’s bought isn’t so original, as almost every other woman there has a similar knock-off. Biggley meets Ovington, but is interrupted by Bud trying to get Hedy drunk. Hedy wants to dance with Finch, who alarmed, grabs Rosemary to demonstrate he’s already dancing. Bud chases after Hedy, foolishly, gets her into the elevator, and she’s already drunk. She heads for Biggley’s office and the man’s private shower. Bud gets an idea, and suckers Finch to the Exec floor. He tells Finch Biggley wants to see Finch in his office. There, Finch encounters a partially dressed and intoxicated Hedy, and visions of Venezuela fill his frantic mind. She says if he does not kiss her, she’ll tell Biggley that he did, and he agrees to kiss her one time. But he is floored by her kiss…and then remembers Rosemary, and realizes he’s starting to fall for her. In fact, her very name, “Rosemary”, has become music to his ears. As he sings, Hedy heads for the bathroom again…and then Rosemary enters. They realize they are in love, just as Hedy re-enters, wearing a towel and a smile. But hearing Biggley approaching, Rosemary saves Finch by embracing and kissing him suddenly. She claims she insisted Finch show her Biggley’s office. Biggley, led there by Bud and told Finch was in the office with Hedy, apologizes to Finch. The party makes its way into J.B.’s office. It is discovered that Ovington played for the Groundhog’s great rival team! He is a Chipmunk! He’s fired, Finch given his job, V.P. Of Advertising. But Finch is given 48 hours to create a complete ad plan, or he’s out. And Rosemary becomes his exec secretary. She says she’d rather die, but he says he needs her, and that’s all she needs to hear, all is forgiven. Bud is horrified to discover Finch has taken yet another step in his meteoric rise.

ACT TWO: The big meeting is coming quick. Rosemary is ready to quit, as she’s getting no attention from Finch at all. Smitty begs “Cinderella, Darling” to not give up on the prince. In Finch’s new Advertising Office, he desperately reads the book. It congratulates him for his rise to V.P….unless he’s become V.P. In charge of Advertising! He’s advised to get a brilliant idea from anywhere that he can. At that moment, Bud enters Finch’s office, and asks to be friends. (He’s clearly up to something.) He knows Finch is stuck for an idea, and suggests a TV giveaway show, a treasure hunt. Finch is so desperate, he starts working on Bud’s idea as his enemy departs. Rosemary returns, having changed her mind (again) and having decided to stick it out with Finch. He can’t understand why she was upset, and lets her know he plans to make her Mrs. Finch. He tells her his “new idea,” but she’s gone deaf and blind, he’s asked her to marry her, and her dream is coming true.

In Biggley’s office, he’s with Hedy when Bud enters and reminds him that he hated the treasure hunt idea. He leaves as Hedy offers Biggley her resignation. She’s been offered a better job, in Los Angeles. He begs her to stay, to be patient, he can’t live without her! (“Love From A Heart Of Gold”) But she plans to leave, anyway. Finch encounters her, and she really likes him, so she makes a move. He can’t quite say no. (No man could.) He agrees to meet her around the corner for lunch. (Maybe he has a plan, though…?)

In the Exec wash Room, the V.P.’s shave and spout out their hate for Finch, in hopes he’s going to take the bullet during the big meeting, and that will be it for him. He shaves as well, staring into the mirror and letting himself know that “I Believe In You”.

The Boardroom. Biggley and the others wait for Finch. He does a sales job and does not tell them his idea quite yet. Biggley lets Finch know it had better be better than a lousy treasure hunt, as suggested by others, And they want his idea now. Finch claims to be surprised that J.B. Has become so small-minded as to not consider a treasure hunt. He spells out his idea, to give away stock in the company as the prize. And he introduces the new World Wide Widgets Treasure Girl in a gorgeous costume…Hedy. Biggley all-too-happily accepts Finch’s idea, now, to keep Hedy close.

The TV show. A pirate dance. Hedy’s entrance as a pirate/treasure girl, stiff, nervous, sexy as hell. She’s about to give the first clue, and is asked to first swear on a Bible that there are no tricks. She did not expect this, and admits she knows where the treasure is, and coughs up its location while on live TV! A disaster.

The Outer Office, as Finch read, trying to handle the disaster. The book suggests he re-read the first chapter, how to apply for a job. He’s toast. Everyone is looking for Finch, and Wally Womper, Chairman of the Board enters, demanding to see Biggley in his office. Jones asks if Rosemary has seen Finch, and implies that his head is going to roll, poor boy. Finch enters, and tells Rosemary he’s been walking and thinking. He’s here to face the music. He admits that just days ago, he was a window washer, but Rosemary doesn’t care. She’s staying with him. Bud sees Finch and drags him into the office, after suggesting Finch should run for his life.

In the office, Biggley says to Womper he knows the buck stops at his desk, but it was all Finch’s fault. Finch enters, takes all the blame, and offers to resign. Biggley doesn’t trust Finch and thinks he’s playing another trick. Finch admits he started out as a window washer…and Womper, stunned, announces that is how he started, as well! And the sun comes out. The two men are suddenly old buddies, and Womper is looking at firing Biggley. But Finch, playing out the string, begs Wally not to fire Biggley, who is, after all, a part of “The Brotherhood of Man”.

Bud is removed from the building by security. Bratt announces a shake up in the corporate chain of command. Biggley is still President…and he introduces their new Chairman of the Board (as Womper has retired), Finch.

Finch asks Rosemary if he should take the job. She says she does not care if he’s President of the company or of the United States…and Finch gets an idea…

THE SONGS:

“How To Succeed”, “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm”, “”Coffee Break”, “The Company Way”, “A Secretary Is Not A Toy”, “”It’s Been A Long Day”, “Grand Old Ivy”, “Paris Original” (often cut from the show), “Rosemary”, “Cinderella, Darling”, “Love From A Heart Of Gold”, “I Believe In You”, “The Brotherhood of Man”

Hits include “I Believe In You”, “The Brotherhood of Man”

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore my opinions and rating.  Regardless, I believe in you.

One of my favorites of all time. I think that if Moliere, the greatest of all comic playwrights, was writing musicals in the 50s, he might have come up with this show. One of the shows I encountered early in my life that made me want to do musicals.

The lyrics and music are beyond clever, and one of the great lyrical lines of all time is found in “A Secretary Is Not A Toy.” To understand it, you’ll need to know that the word “pad” was slang at that time for the place one lived, and that Secretaries also took dictation in a pad of paper from their bosses.

The script is built like a beautiful, fine watch. There are small edits one might make, but almost everything is both needed for the plot to make fairy-tale sense, and it’s all extremely entertaining. The show provides a tangy, acerbic, ironic look at corporate America, a kick in the pants that still works today in many ways. The characters, though generally cartoonish, are detailed and interesting enough to carry an audience through the proceedings. A good director will see to it that the cartoon-attitude prevails throughout, but that we do understand that real people experience real fear and stress and desperation in trying to move “up the ladder,” whether it be Finch and his opponents on the corporate ladder, or Rosemary and Smitty looking for a home life. The show can mean more than it’s surface. So long as you never sacrifice the comedy for depth, not in this case

This show embodies the smart, sexy, funny musical that ended the Golden Age of Musicals in mid 50s, early 60s. Needless to say, as was true of so many of those snazzy shows, Bob Fosse played a large hand in the feel and the flow of it, as did Loesser. Loesser didn’t just compose scores, he published music for many other shows with his company, Frank Music, and “discovered” Meredith Willson (The Music Man), and Adler & Ross (Damn Yankees, Pajama Game). No single man was more responsible for the highly professional, bright, fizzy musical entertainments from that period.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The score is jazzy, percussive, and will require a tight band or orchestra to pull it off well. There is some important ensemble singing. Your M.D. will need to be facile with show tunes and styles. The lyrics are golden, and will need to be delivered with clarity and joy.

J.P. Finch – Tenor, with tons of personality and warmth. A star-type role.

Rosemary – Sweet, lovely, warm alto.

J.B. Biggley – A mature crooner, baritone.

Bud Frump – Lyric baritone with a weasel-like quality, very strong musical theater chops required.

Hedy LaRue – Character alto, strong voice, clear, able to play “dumb.”

Smitty – Mezzo with big range, dry quality, decent belt, clear and distinct.

Mr. Twimble/Wally Womper – A big Baritone voice, not “legit” so much as clear and belty.

Mr. Gatch – Speaking role.

Miss Jones – A mature, operatic soprano with a huge, powerful voice in her mid-range, but able to “swing” into a Gospel feel and shock the crowd with it.

Ensemble – MUST sing and dance, and look the part of corporate employees, secretaries, assistants, you name it. Get all the ranges covered for choral effects.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

Well, Bob Fosse took over the choreographic chores after a single number was done by the man who was credited for choreography. It’s a Fosse show, as you can certainly tell watching the film. So you had three geniuses at the helm! This means that a lot of creative jazz-oriented dance is called for.

Your choreographer will need to be all over “How To Succeed”, “Coffee Break”, “A Secretary Is Not A Toy”, “Paris Original” (often cut from the show,) “Rosemary”, “Cinderella, Darling”, “I Believe In You”, and “The Brotherhood of Man”. These numbers often use leads and ensemble, which means a fair amount of your rehearsal time is going to go into them. They will take time, as character actors often are not dancers. A lot of creative energy will be expended making these numbers exact, professional, and fun. The choreographer should always keep in mind that we’re in an office building, at a corporate place of work, and pull his movements from that world as Fosse did, using typewriters (now use computer keyboards…) and electric razors in the corporate bathroom, maybe even the sound of steam exhaled by an empty coffee dispenser, to create both rhythm and humor.

The choreographer may also put a hand on “The Company Way”, “It’s Been A Long Day”, “Grand Old Ivy”, and “Love From A Heart Of Gold”, as these should be carefully designed to get the most from the music and character humor, and they should move physically. What’s left of the songs are the director’s job, and it isn’t much.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Today, I would make a significant effort to cast this multi-racial, with an emphasis on the leads. They are always played lily-white, and there’s absolutely no reason for it. Just cast the best people you can find, that alone will help make and keep this show fresh. Corporate America is diverse today, make your show look like it. (I can just imagine what a young Eddie Murphy would have done with Finch….)

J.P. Finch – Usually played by an actor with a young, undeservedly “naive” feel to him, the sort women want to take home and take care of. But in his heart, he’s an assassin, entirely self-involved. Must be a strong comic actor able to play a bit bigger than life, as this is not a subtle piece, but rather a satire, almost a lampoon. (Do NOT let it go into “camp,” however, that will kill the heart that beats at the center of this show.) Does he fall in love with Rosemary? Finch is a fantastically ambitious man. He’s all about Finch, and the one love song n the show is sung by Finch to himself in the mirror. (“I Believe In You”) Rosemary is beautiful, tall, likeable and crazy for him. He could be in love, but she will be a trophy wife. And that will seemingly be okay by her.

Rosemary – Love the idea of her and Finch being a size miss-match, with her a lot taller than him. She needs to be patient, endearing, sweet, adorable, lovely. Much too good for the assassin that Finch secretly and truly is. The more we like her, the more we will like and accept Finch, because she likes him. This is absolutely critical for the show to work. Without Rosemary, Finch is just a rat and would be very hard to root for, and I think the authors knew this full well. If the audience falls in love with Rosemary, some will envy Finch, but almost everyone will at least accept him into the “brotherhood of man,” where there is some question as to whether or not he belongs. So cast a lovely and wonderful girl who, just by standing there, wins our sympathy. It’s a must.

J.B. Biggley – Stuffy, fuddy-duddy, old-fashioned, out of touch, self-involved, and the boss. The actor must be in his 50s or up, perhaps look like he’s in his 60s. Requires an actor who can be proper, abrupt, prim, and very funny. He turns gushy and amorous for Hedy, showing another side. The actor should not go for verisimilitude. As is true of most if not all of the characters in the show, he’s over-the-top, bigger than life.

Bud Frump – The rat in the building. Utterly self-involved, ruthless, not unclever, but completely outclassed in every way by Finch. In his 20s-30s, Biggley’s nephew, though Biggley despises the boy and for good reason. A liar, cheat, user. Requires a very funny actor or he’ll be simply disguisting.

Hedy LaRue – 25-35, a sex bomb that blows up in Biggley’s life, his secretary. Va-va-va-voom taken to silly extremes. Plays really dumb, but knows exactly what she wants and how to get it.

Smitty – A dry, cynical working girl with one mission in life, to find her own Prince Charming. In some ways, she’s the “common sense” in the story, pushing Rosemary to accept her own prince in Finch, and revealing in the process her own stultified romantic instincts.

Mr. Twimble/Wally Womper – Usually doubled as one is one early in the show, one late. Middle aged (usually disguised to be older at the end, as Womper). Twimble is a “Company Man”, without imagination or much ambition other than to keep his job. He is a “yes man”, a “rah-rah” for the company, an example of what going along and keeping your mouth shut can get you. Womper is Chairman of the Board, aggressive, still hungry but tired, a man with a huge appetite for life and business. Does he really believe there is a “Brotherhood of Man,” or is he buying the snake oil he’s sold others through his life to get where he is today? Is the number tongue in cheek? Well, of course it is, just like the rest of the show! But that does not mean the audience and actors wont feel good indulging in it! Cast a very good actor with a big voice, one who is believable as the big cheese, a man you don’t want to cross – as well as the loser at the bottom of the corporate ladder, forever buried in the mail room.

Mr. Gatch – A corporate middle-man, horny for success and perks, but untalented, unimaginative. Probably middle-aged, so we wonder why he isn’t further up that ladder. A “yes man” par excellent.

Miss Jones – Imposing, stately, professional, impressive…until she lets her hair down and sings her gospel take on “Brotherhood of Man.” No one would mistake her for a secretary one takes home for the night. In her 40s-60s, she has earned her way up the corporate ladder, and who knows how many skeletons she knows are buried and where. To be feared by everyone.

Ensemble – Corporate hacks, secretaries, upwardly-mobile vice presidents. All of a type, with a look appropriate to the period you elect to place the show in. (Do the 50s, unless the costuming is going to kill your budget.) Singing and dancing a must.

SETS:

Lots of sets, mostly offices, standing outside a two-elevator system in a hallway. Lots of bare white walls, desks, chairs. The show exists in a world made up of a single office building. Re-use walls if you can, they’re all featureless anyway. The furniture will need to indicate progress up the corporate ladder, as well as the size and window space in each office. No windows in the mail room, it’s in the literal basement. Perhaps the smallest of windows next step up, and so on.

You may even wish to go with painted backdrops. This show is a kind of fairy-tale, and fancifully painted backdrops could be funny and creative, and a way to keep the show moving quickly instead of moving walls around for each set. This might even be done with digital projections, if you move the story to today – that would then fit right in as an approach. I don’t think this show will support a unit set well, we do need to see Finch’s progress up the corporate ladder in some concrete, visual way, as it happens so fast. Digital projections alone, I think, might allow a unit approach, a largely bare stage. Much of the “furniture” could be seen as a part of the projected locations. You could do the same, perhaps, with backdrops, and keep it low-tech and in the 50s.

Biggley’s office is palatial, with its own restroom, and perhaps a wall of windows looking out over Big City America. (New York?) It will need to occupy a large part of the stage. So will the party sequence at the end of Act I, but that might be played on the apron, without much of a set outside of a cart or two with drinks. Even those can be dispensed with as supposedly, secretaries are working as hostesses, and they can carry on the drinks.

The elevators just need to be wall flats with two sliding doors, one for each elevator, and a clock-like object at the top of each door to demonstrate what floor the elevator is on. LOTS of floors. Maybe a digital display, if you want to modernize this, or no display at all.

Perhaps one set that could be problematic is the TV set for the Treasure Hunt Show.  It provides the designer a chance to get creative with pirate symbols and images, treasure chests and such.  You’ll need something that looks like a TV camera from the period, focused on Hedy and making her nervous.  Again, though, the difficulty of this will be determined by your general approach.  Think through this set, as it’s different from everything else in the show.

COSTUMES:

Well, to period or not to period? If it’s the late 50s/early 60s, there are tons of films you can look at to get the idea of the look.

The women are somewhat objectified in this piece, which is an argument for keeping it in period. Their costumes would then show off their assets, particularly Hedy. There would be two kinds of secretaries, the real pros like Rosemary and Jones, and the man-hunters, like Smitty and LaRue. Differentiating these through the cut of their costumes will help establish the rules of the game. And sex sells, it has always been a part of musical theater. And though LaRue is a cartoon, the woman cast should definitely have something about her that explains why all the men in the show fall at her feet. Her pirate costume should make men sit up straight and women scowl.

You will spend the vast bulk of your time costuming your women.

The men all wear suits, of course. The higher up the ladder, perhaps, the better the suit. Except Biggley, who is above the need to impress, and can wear loafers, pull-over sweaters and shirts, comfortable slacks. When he enters to play golf, he should be dressed in some over-the-top golf clothing for the period. And Womper, when he enters, could be in a killer suit, or dressed even informally than Biggley. He is the top of the food chain.

PROPS:

Phones, typewriters, paperweights, desks, all in period. Coffee cups, an office coffee dispenser (today, perhaps a Starbucks on the premises that runs out of coffee…), the right towel for Hedy after her shower. The Bible for her to swear on, large enough to be seen on stage, perhaps over-sized. Finch’s window-washing gear. Biggley’s golf clubs. All in all, not too hard an assignment.

LIGHTING:

This is pure musical comedy. Bright lighting that pops, not a lot of “moods.” The lighting should help the transitions somehow stay tight and short, as we don’t want to provide the audience too much of an escape.

MAKE-UP:

If you’re doing the late 50′s/early 60′s, then hair styles are going to be very important. Do your homework on this one. Women who are man-hunters would be made-up more intently than other women like Jones or Rosemary. Men, little make-up is called for. A simple job.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Choreographer, Music Director, Costume Designer, Set Designer, Finch, Rosemary, Biggley.

MY THOUGHTS:

Loesser was a bit of an experimenter when it came to musicals. For instance, this show’s opening number is a solo, sung by Finch alone as he makes his way into his first corporate job. If you know your musicals, you know that most opening numbers involve many voices, a lot of hustle and bustle involving most of the cast. What Loesser and his collaborators do here is immediately focus the audience not on the corporation, or what they do, but on Finch and what he will do. It is kind of the flip side of another experimental opening number, the one that starts The Music Man, where a bunch of salesmen on a train sing about this guy, Harold Hill, while Hill quietly observes without announcing his presence, a great intro to his character and the show. Interestingly enough, Loesser helped push Willson into creating The Music Man, and Loesser’s company, Frank Music, published the music for it!

By the way, there is a section of music in the show where Finch sings Rosemary’s name twice in a row. Listen to it carefully and tell me if you don’t hear the main theme from Jesus Christ, Superstar, where they sing “Jesus Christ” twice in a row. And of course, How To Succeed beat J.C. into the world by about a decade.

Anyway, a great show. Outside of momentary glimpses of humanity, you should keep the proceedings moving, cool, detached, funny. Let us care about Rosemary and we’ll care about Finch. She loves him, so we will, too. And “I Believe In You” is about a man pumping himself up for the biggest moment of his life, and might reveal some humanity in Finch, some fear of failure that could help the end of the play. It’s a hit number, and can be used to create a small window into what seems to be a cold, aggressive heart. It wouldn’t hurt to use it that way. Perhaps his hands can shake a he starts to shave, and then gradually steady, as his eyes grow increasingly determined and steely. Let us see the price paid for all that arrogance. He is just a little smarter and better than the other men in the bathroom, just enough. That way, the threat of failure is more ‘real,” and the stakes are raised enough that the audience can root for someone, always a good thing. If he’s just a success machine, then we all know how it will end before it starts, and there is no reason for the audience to take that journey.