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Jonas proves Broadway talent in 'How to Succeed'

From the second Nick Jonas descended from the rafters of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the crowd was hooked. The 2011 revival of the show, directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, now stars Jonas as J. Pierpont Finch and an entirely captivating cast.

How to Succeed chronicles the tale of Finch in his rise to the top of the business world… without really trying. Upon discovering a book with amusingly specific and accurate instructions on this venture (narrated by a recording of Anderson Cooper), Finch is inspired to give it a try. He first makes his way from a window washer to a mail room worker at World Wide Wicket Company (WWW).

From there, he follows direct tactics on who to talk to, what to say and who to give flowers to. Each strategy works, as Finch finds himself rapidly moving up to the top, finding favor in each superior’s eyes.

As soon as Finch arrives at WWW, he is the soul focus of coworker Rosemary Pilkington (Stephanie Rothenberg), who envisions her life with him, after deciding that she will become his wife. Although Finch is oblivious and absorbed in business, their relationship develops.

When Finch seems to have it all — the girl, the attention, the job (now the advertising vice president) — personnel manager Mr. Bratt (Michael Park) calls him out, requesting Finch to actually prove his skills for the first time. Act I is left at the climax of Finch’s assignment to present a great new idea for the company. Here, his lack of legitimate work comes back to bite him.

A subject of business does not automatically seem like the most lighthearted topic for a comedy musical, but the script (along with fantastic presentation) gave a witty perspective of the business world. Since the whole point is a spoof on the working world, there were plenty of opportunities for jokes. This kept the audience laughing for pretty much the entire time.

With a total of 32 songs on the soundtrack, it is impressive that How to Succeed was enjoyable from start to finish, without a dull moment. If any of the songs lacked the merit to stand alone, it was compensated with impeccable choreography.

Not every song in the set by Frank Loessler is particularly listenable. Without the image of what was going on onstage during some songs, life “Coffee Break” and “Been a Long Day,” I would never choose to listen to them. Some songs are in keys that are slightly unpleasant, and the lyrics can become repetitive and pointless. These pieces depended on the choreography to be successful.

Luckily, the staging was so entertaining that I never found myself bored or sick of the music. “Company Way” was the first song to stand out due to choreography. Though the words were just the mail room director describing how he plays it safe, it was impossibly to avert my attention from that stage. Ashford cleverly made use of the setting to incorporate choreography with packages, stamps and mail baskets. In the background, the company was doing acrobatic, eye-catching dancing and package-tossing.

The biggest hit of the night was “Brotherhood of Man.” The song — with a double threat of a catchy tune and incredible dancing — kept the audience clapping well after it was over. The chorus of men presented a powerful sound, and the five-minute number was filled with tricky footwork, athletic handstands and the classic cluster of performers making their way across the stage in unison. The energy was high both onstage and in the crowd in such a triumphant, fun song.

On the other end of the spectrum, some songs were purely enjoyable without the overkill of dancing. Jonas had the simple spotlight in “Rosemary” and “I Believe in You,” where the scene merely depended on his presentation. Unlike some of the songs with harsh tones, these two seemed to only use beautiful notes and harmonies. He sounded like a natural singer in every song, but these two were especially memorable, and his voice sounded pure.

In How to Succeed, Jonas proved that he wasn’t hired just to sell tickets with a big name. He was genuinely impressive and has the capabilities of a Broadway star. He gave an undeniably captivating performance, whether you’re a Jo Bro fan or not. Apparently Jonas’s run in the show hasn’t grossed as much as those who held the role before him, Daniel Radcliffe and Darren Criss. Besides the obvious fact that Radcliffe is a big name, it is beyond me why anyone would favor Jonas less.

Going into the show, I had no particular interest in Jonas, but expected a perfectly good performance. By the time intermission came, I was absolutely charmed over by his dashing smile and boyish expressions (F-I-N-C-H Finch!). Beyond this, I was just impressed by how professional he was. I generally wouldn’t trust a Disney star to give a respectable Broadway performance, but I truly didn’t have any complaints about him. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Jonas was not the only cast member, believe it or not. Beau Bridges, as WWW boss J.B. Biggley, got lots of laughs from the crowd. His character had the amusing persona of an important business figure with secret obsessions like knitting, and not-so-secret obsessions like his alma mater, Old Ivy *insert enthusiastic fight song and dance here.* He gave a great balance of a dignified executive with some laughable quirks.

Even the understudies were fantastic. It is always disappointing to open a Playbill and find papers saying that actors will be replaced by their understudies. This time around, however, I wouldn’t have known that these replacements weren’t stars, themselves. I was disappointed not to see Michael Urie play Biggley’s incompetent, scheming nephew, Bud Frump, but Charlie Williams was quite the scene-stealer. He played up his role extremely well, and had a strong tenor voice.

With so much praise, I must explain the designated four-star review. Compared to any other show, a Broadway show will, nine times out of 10, be an easy five stars. Exclusively on Broadway, though, I can only fairly judge to that scale. So, even with such minor complaints, that is what it must come down to. While How to Succeed was highly enjoyable, it simply wasn’t quite as legendary as, say, a Cole Porter score.

Nonetheless, this show easily goes at the top of my list of musicals. It all comes down to the fact that it was a purely entertaining evening of theater with far more positives than negatives. I would see this show again in a second if I had the chance. Considering the fact that the songs have been stuck in my head (in a good way) since the show ended, I have a feeling that it will maintain a positive impression.

For more drama reviews, read the March 5 article, Ballet companies put contemporary spin on children’s classic.

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