UMMTA’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is “Mad Men” on Anti-depressants by Hilary Binks

Posted on April 22, 2013

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While UMMTA’s choice to coincide their performance of the classic ’60s musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (H2$), with the return of AMC’s Mad Men was probably a coincidence, comparisons between these two depictions of the corporate bubble are almost unavoidable.

The lead character is really a bright-eyed, much younger Don Draper, who sings and dances his way up the corporate ladder. It is hard not to see J. Pierrepont Finch’s tale of “success” as just a prequel to his inevitable transformation into one of the womanising alcoholics of Madison Avenue. In fact, Finch is very one tone; as though he is yet to develop the complex, alluring angst of Don Draper.

H2$

UMMTA’s “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”. Union Theatre, 19th – 28th April. 

Okay, moving on from my obsession with Mad Men, UMMTA has classily pulled off this fun Broadway satire.

Director Jayde Kirchert’s focus on simplicity was not only wise (given the extremely tight deadlines of the show!) but also tasteful and effective. The direction, choreography and singing were smoothly coordinated and executed. This was echoed in the sophisticated rectangular set pieces that were seamlessly rearranged by cast members to create the corporate world. In contrast to the grey hues of the set (designed by Kim Ritchie), the suits and colourful secretary outfits popped on stage. The costume design, also by Ritchie, was a simple and effective translation of stylish ’60s corporate wear to Broadway.

The innovation and class of the costume and set-piece design were disappointingly set off-balance by a smattering of warning sign print-outs visible on the wings; the lack of backdrop and the choice to have off-stage cast members semi-visible completely took attention away from the performance. These minor touches prevented the audience from getting completely caught up in the H2$ world.

It’s worth seeing the show just for Kieran McGrath’s portrayal of J. Pierrepont Finch. He brings incredible poise to the role, making the character’s conniving actions completely understandable—even likeable. This was accentuated by his lovely singing voice and excellent vocal control. Nicola Guzzardi (Smitty), Syd Zygier (Miss Krumholtz) and Jeremy Russo (Twimble/Officer) also deserve a mention for their riveting and believable depictions.

Keiran McGrath and his businessmen—and that spectacular chair.

The collective energy of the cast is the most remarkable feature of H2$. Their unflagging enthusiasm (best demonstrated by the fearless improvisation) was a testament to the dedication it takes for a cast and crew to put together a show in barely two months. Sadly, the music might have suffered from the tight deadline; the orchestra was a surprising let down. There were points where Finch and Rosemary were singing about the music swelling to crescendo and it just didn’t quite get there.

Overall, UMMTA has certainly “succeeded” in putting on a classy, fun show. But “without really trying”? I don’t think so—it’s clear a lot of hard work has gone into this performance. All the more reason for you to go and see it; the commitment and dedication of the H2$ team shines through admirably in this strong production.

Hilary Binks is a theatre reviewer for You’re Dripping Egg. You can read more of her musings about Melbourne theatre here. For more reviews of UMMTA’s work, click here.

UMMTA’s production of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying is playing at the Union Theatre, University of Melbourne from Wednesday 24th April to Saturday 27th April. You can book tickets here.

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