What if a book could teach you how to succeed in business without, well, really trying?
The men of Avon probably wouldn’t find a cheat book like that in a class at Avon Old Farms School, but the students will show you how J. Pierrepont Finch (Saagar Sinha) climbs the corporate ladder quickly in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. AOF teams up with actresses from Miss Porter’s School and Farmington High School for its winter musical. View the full photo album on our Facebook page.
Rebekah Hawkinson, an Avon resident, directs her second winter musical at AOF (last year, she directed Damn Yankees). She was first involved in the productions as a choreographer and grew up on the AOF campus as the daughter of a faculty member.
Sinha plays the role most recently made famous by Daniel Radcliffe – who you might know as a little wizard named Harry Potter – as well as Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers and Glee‘s Darren Criss. On Finch’s shortcut route from window washer to the top, Sinha gives us a duplicitous, cunning protagonist, who seems innocent and naive to his coworkers but who we also see as a conniving, but friendly, opportunist. He’s really pulling all the strings. Sinha said he watched clips of all three in the role, which taught him the mood of the character and comedic moments. All in all, he wanted to bring out how sneaky Finch can be.
“I’m not as sneaky as Finch,” Sinha said after Wednesday’s dress rehearsal. “Finch likes to go ahead quickly while I like to go one step at a time.”
I was lucky enough to see Radcliffe as the energetic, charismatic Finch – that’s F-I-N-C-H! – and Broadway veteran John Larroquette as J.B. Biggley, the president of the World Wide Wickets Company, in Broadway’s How to Succeed. So, my expectations for the show were already pretty unfairly high. While AOF’s production is no Broadway – sequel idea: how to make a Broadway caliber show without really trying – it shouldn’t be. The beauty of theater is that you can take the same book and each production adds it’s own flavor and texture for something new.
What I remember most about the Broadway version is the dynamic duo of Finch and Biggley once our window washer weasels his way into the executive circle, leading into Grand Old Ivy, the most energetic number of the show. Finch, who coincidentally “attended the same college” as Biggley, bonds with him over the Groundhogs’ (what an appropriate mascot for a February show) rivalry with the Chipmunks by singing (and dancing to) the alma mater’s fight song – that he “knows” and “loves” – for the first time. It’s reminiscent of the annual Yale Bulldogs-Harvard Crimson football rivalry.
On Broadway, the number is grand. Radcliffe leaps and flips, trying to keep up with Larroquette as he learns the dance and song on the fly. Football players flow into the office for a choreographed football game routine. I wondered how AOF would tackle this one.
As it turns out, it’s not a big dance number in this version. But that was intentional. Choreographer Olivia Wilcox said she gave the Sinha and Jas Spearman (Biggley) very few dance moves for the scene and let them play with it. The rest was all them. As Sinha put it, he basically followed whatever Spearman did, which keeps the dance fresh. He goes from learning the song and dance for the first time to taking it over and making it his own.
At first, I was looking for the flashy dance football choreography, but the simplicity of keeping it to Finch and Biggley in the scene exemplified the intimacy of the moment and further focused on Finch’s power of observation and manipulation tactics. Sinha and Spearman learned how to knit for the show to highlight Biggley’s flamboyant feminine side and Finch’s efforts to develop a tight-knit relationship with the boss as he knits at the top of the scene.
Finch describes the company as a “brotherhood of man” and that is also an apt description of his AOF cast. More accurately, the show is a family. It wasn’t about one star or just the leads. Everyone is part of the team.
Not to mention the outstanding actresses that always enhance AOF productions. Kaitlyn Kabbash (you might recognize her as Adelaide from Guys and Dolls at AOF) comes from Miss Porter’s in Farmington to play office temptress, Hedy LaRue.
Hawkinson recruited two of her dance students at Evjen Academy of Performing Arts in Farmington to join the show – Larkin Meehan (Smitty) and Liz Hammond (Rosemary) of Farmington High School. Meehan plays Smitty as a wise, sassy senior office secretary with moments of ditziness and female empowerment when it comes to giving Rosemary dating advice about pursuing Finch. Her instincts for movement are impressive, whether bobbling with delight at Rosemary’s love prospect or dancing gracefully while singing powerfully.
Hammond’s sweet soprano shines and the vocals are all-around strong under the musical direction of Bryan Zaros. A live band backs the performers and brings energy and pacing to the numbers.
The production features the ensemble very prominently. The actors who play the office workers sit and stand in two levels of cubicles – in a set that Technical Director James Kassel fashioned after elements of the Broadway structure – for the first few scenes. Sometimes being in the ensemble can be challenging because you often have to come up with what to do in the background without much direction. These office workers were each very convincingly focused on their job and were part of the scenery. They were eye-catching and blended into the background at the same time, giving the office a pulse while reinforcing Finch’s desire to slip in without anyone noticing and stand out as the ideal candidate for multiple promotions. Their reactions to Finch also guide our own perceptions of his character.
Finch isn’t the only one who tries to rise quickly in the company. There’s LaRue who uses connections and seduction.
And there’s one name that lingers as much as Finch. Bud Frump (Seamus Donovan). Donovan was typecast into the role of the “class clown of the musical,” Hawkinson said, and you’ll want to listen closely for every punchline he mutters under his breath. As Biggley tries to avoid nepotism, Frump tries to use his family connections to catapult him to management promotions.
So, Finch is not alone.
Would you use Finch’s methods to get the top? It’s ethically questionable and you could get caught.
But regardless, it sure is entertaining and casts slapstick scrutiny on the corporate world.
J. Peirrepont Finch – Saagar Sinha
Mr. Gatch – Jackie Chen
Mr. Jenkins – Alex Papadopoulos
Mr. Tackaberry – Jamie Thorington
J.B. Biggley – Jas Spearman
Rosemary Pilkington – Liz Hammond
Mr. Bratt – Carty Caruso
Smitty – Larkin Meehan
Bud Frump – Seamus Donovan
Miss Jones – Allie Andrade
Mr. Twimble – Terence Durrant
Hedy LaRue – Kaitlyn Kabbash
Kathy (Scrubwoman 1) – Margaret Kassel
Meredith (Scrubwoman 2) – Persephone Tsebelis
Miss Krumholtz – Arielle Shternfeld
Mr. Davis – Zach Sweedler
Mr. Ovington & Mr. Chu – Jacky Chu
T.V. Announcer – Jake Rochford
Wally Womper – Jamie Thorington
Cop – Giuseppe Reese-Mellone
Miss Grabowski – Amatullah Shaw
Lily – Morgan Reid
Nancy – Lauren Abbott
Wicket Girl 1 – Mary Rose Mallozzi
Wicket Girl 2 – Susanna Schuler
Dance Captain & Jolly Wickette – Tia Jones
Book Voice – Mr. Bill Mella
Male Dance Leads – Terence Durrant, Alex Papadopoulos, Jamie Thorington & Seamus Donovan
Female Dance Leads – Tia Jones, Larkin Meehan, Lauren Abbott & Amatullah Shaw
Ensemble & Dancers – Maddie Young, Brianna Gambacini, Sung-Min Kim & Zipporah Diaz
Piano – Diana Lawler
Saxophone/Clarinet – Chip Fenney
Saxophone/Flute – Amy Eisenstadt Trumpet – Larry Gareau
Trombone – Robert Volo
Bass – Dave Raposo
Violin – Carin Wiesner
Drums – Dan Volpe
Director – Rebekah Hawkinson
Music Director – Bryan Zaros
Choreographer – Olivia Wilcox
Technical Director, Set Design & Construction – James Kassel
Assistant Director – Giuseppe Reese-Mellone
Stage Managers – Mohammed Meraay &Tristan Garland
Light Design & Operation- Devin McKenna Sound Technician – Charles Carpenter
Tech Crew – Jason Filipe, Michael Fischer, Michael Gianci, Julia Kassel, Alex Lusins Costumes – Norcostco, Modcloth, Unique Vintage Costume coordinator – Olivia Wilcox Make-Up and Hair Design – Olivia Wilcox, Naomi Lemire, Marnee Miceli
Programs and Poster – Michael Dembicer
Photography – Seshu Badrinath
Additional Technical Support and Design – Harvey Ricard & Michael Hunter
The show opens this weekend at Adams Theatre toward the front of the Avon Old Farms campus (500 Old Farms Rd.). It runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. The public is welcome to come to any performance, but Saturday is the recommended date, as there will be many students at the others.
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