How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock & Willie Gilbert. Southwark Playhouse, the Large, 77 Newington Causeway, London SE 1 to 17 June 2023. 4****. William Russell.

Midweek and three quarters full the performance I saw of this 1961 Broadway musical turned out to be as flat as a pancake until just before the end when the cast, who had been working hard, launched into possibly it’s best song – The Brotherhood of Man – and things came alive. It

Frank Loesser’s 1961 Broadway show in a revised version by director Georgie Rankcom had opened to rave reviews a week before I managed to see it. They might have been justified by what people saw on the night but theatre is a funny thing when it comes to how individual performances go. This one, a sexually updated version which, to be honest, although Rankcom makes a case for it in one of those programme notes nobody can read in auditorium lighting, creates loads of problems. To see it as it should be done get the 1967 film version starring Robert Morse who created the role of the window washer scaling the heights on Broadway. Less often revived it is every match for Loesser’s much loved Guy’s and Dolls. I saw it a decade ago in a good production at Chichester directed by Martin Duncan with James Bolam as J B Bigley, the company boss, and Joe McFadden as J. Pierrepont Finch, the window washer climbing the corporate ladder with a little help from a book he has acquired. It really deserved to come into town but didn’t. Musicals cost a lot, musicals need large theatres.

This production at Southwark has a tiny cast, a decent band and a minimal set – the big name in it is Tracy Bennett who for reasons best known to herself plays Bigley clad in an orange suit which makes her look like some sort of garden gnome pretending to be a carrot. She/he. because you wouldn’t know, gets one song and delivers it, as you would expect, with style but otherwise she is wasted. Finch is played by Gabrielle Friendmanand who sings well but isn’t funny and if he isn’t funny, because he is a bit of a creep, the show loses momentum. You need to like him and funny you do. But Elliot Gooch as the nasty nephew of the boss is terrific, as indeed in a variety of roles are Taylor Bradshaw and Danny Lane. The voice of the book Finch consults is done by Michelle Visage proving that she can read but little else.

If you accept Rankcom’s concept on a good night it probably is a four star show – some reviwers gave it five – so I have done that although what I saw was more like a two star performance of a show which is in its own right a five star show. Quite apart from the score the book is outstanding and packed with good lines.

Hedy Larue – Annie Aitken; J.B. Bigley – Tracie Bennett; Mr Bratt/Dance Captain – Taylor Bradshaw; Rosemary Pilkington – Allie Daniel; J. Pierrepont Finch – Gabrielle Friedman; Bud Frump – Elliot Gooch; Miss Jones – Grace Kanyamibwa; Mr Twimble/Mr Wally Womper – Danny Lane; Mr Milton Catch – Milo McCarthy; Smitty – Verity Power; the Voice – Michelle Visage.

Director – Georgie Rankcom; Choreographer: Alexandra Sarmiento; Musical Director – Natalie Pound; Set & Costumes Designer – Sophia Pardon; Lighting Designer – Lucia Sanchez Roldan; Sound Designer – Joshua Robins; Hair & Make up Designer – Emily Loutit; Orchestrator – Stuart Morley; Production Photographs – Panela Raith.

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