Thus I go pleading for answers from my fellow actors as I try to get things straight in my head for my musical comedy debut in the Rockaway Theatre Company production of the venerable corporate sendup, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
I am usually behind the video camera at RTC shows, other than my acting debut 3 years ago in “The Odd Couple,” an 8-character play.
“How to Succeed…” is an entirely different experience – a very funny musical comedy with a large cast of around 40. Most members are in their teens, twenties or early thirties, with a sprinkling of forty-something’s.
Having just turned 69 I sort of stand out. The only person anywhere within a decade of me is the RTC jack of all trades, the always amazing Cliff Hesse, who plays J.B. Biggley, the boss of “World Wide Widget” (WWW) whose fling with a young floozy almost brings down the entire corporation.
“How To…” is the Abe Burrows 1961 Broadway production and 1967 film send-up of corporate culture which made a house-hold name of Bobby Morse, playing the young window cleaner who uses a How-to book to guide him through the corporate maze, and Rudy Vallee playing J.B. Biggley. Much of the choreography was done by Bob Fosse.
Both AMC’s “Madmen” and “How To…” have large ensemble casts of corporate executives and secretaries, with the expected hints of the shenanigans and rampant sexism that went on in those pre-feminist times.
Fans of the AMC show “Madmen” will instantly recognize the similarities to “How To…” clearly an inspiration. Brilliant casting of that show has an older (and much heavier) Bobby Morse playing the big boss of the advertising agency.
I had never appreciated just how funny the play “How To…” is, satirizing the corporate culture with brilliant songs like “The Company Way” and “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” where WWW 2nd-in command Bratt, played by excellent actor and Leon Goldstein HS teacher Steve Ryan, admonishes the men that a secretary is not “to fondle and dandle and playfully handle in search of some puerile joy.” The secretaries, played by an amazing collection of beautiful women that will take every guy who sees the show’s breath away, reply with “A secretary is not a thing wound by key, pulled by string. Her pad is to write in and not spend the night in…”
As one of the ensemble cast of executives I have four lines which, thank goodness I only have to remember one at a time. I also have to dance and sing, neither of which I can do very well, in some big numbers, including the famous “Brotherhood of Man.”
Doing two things at the same time is pretty much beyond me at this point so I don’t add a third by chewing gum.
I can’t say enough about the professional level of theater the crew at the RTC puts together. They do everything that Broadway productions do.
Being involved in a big production lets me see how the sausage is made. There are so many aspects of the theater that go beyond what you see on the stage. Set design and construction – I have the honor of being part of the crew assembled by the great Tony Homsey, watching Susan Corning – one of the best actresses I’ve seen at RTC – handle the wonderful costuming – just wait ‘till you see these gals dressed in office-60s garb, musical director Richard Louis Pierre who also makes sure the hi-tech sound board is working, the lighting by Andrew Woodbridge and of course the direction of John Gilleece and Producer Susan Jasper who gave a guy like me this unique opportunity. (There are many more people to mention by far).
How else would I find myself at a postrehearsal late Friday night cast party doing the Zumba on state ‘till 1 a.m. with people young enough to be my grandchildren? Excuse me – I gotta go ice my knees.
Opening night is Friday, March 14th and it runs for three weekends (Friday nights – Mar. 14, 21, 28, Saturday nights – March 15th, 22nd, 29th – all at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, March 15th and Sunday, March 23rd and March 30th.)
If Kevin lets me, I’ll do a follow-up next week about how I survived both a matinee and evening performance on March 15th. If you come to the evening performance, bring me some Advil. Norm still takes time from his budding acting career to write his daily blog at ednotesonline.org.