By Alexandra Ley
In 1961, Guys and Dolls composer and author team Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows collaborated on a satirical musical about contemporary office life, resulting in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, the story of an average white-collar employee rising to the top of the World Wide Wickets Company. The show was a hit. Acclaimed actor Robert Morse starred as the role of J. Pierrepont Finch and although critics praised Morse’s past appearance on Broadway, it was the role of Finch that made him a star and eventually a Broadway legend. He won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical (one of seven for How to Succeed) and starred in the 1967 film adaptation. How to Succeed also became the fourth musical to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1962.
In late 2010, it was formally announced that a 50th anniversary production of How to Succeed would hit Broadway this year. How to Succeed has created a stir in the media. Not because it is one of two revivals on Broadway this season, or because of it’s similarities to the recently-closed Promises, Promises, but because 21-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, best known for playing the title role of Harry Potter in all eight film adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s book series, will make his musical debut as Finch. The most common response to Radcliffe’s return to Broadway in How to Succeed seems to be “Can he even sing?”
In 1994, the announcement of Matthew Broderick’s Broadway appearance as Finch prompted the same question. Broderick, a well-established film and dramatic actor, had never sung publicly before the 1995 revival of How to Succeed. Broderick’s performance was highly praised by The New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini not for his voice, but for his acting chops and characterization of Finch. Audience members and awards committees seemed to agree with Tommasini and Broderick garnered the production’s sole Tony Award (Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical) and Drama Desk Award (Outstanding Actor in a Musical). Broderick later went on to playing the lead of Leopold “Leo” Bloom in the stage musical and movie musical versions of The Producers, earning him his status as “a musical theatre actor.” It could be that history is repeating itself with Radcliffe.
Radcliffe has made it clear that he plans to keep acting after the Harry Potter series concludes and he is able to move on from the role that his name became synonymous with when he was 11. He has been in two other films since beginning the Harry Potter movies, recently finished shooting The Woman in Black, and is currently in production for The Journey Is the Destination. Radcliffe’s 2007 appearance in the West End and Broadway productions of Equus caused controversy because of the nude scenes required by his character, and Radcliffe’s appeal to a young fan base.
The fact that this character is a man in his twenties, not a hormone-crazed teenager, is a step forward for Radcliffe’s image and the roles he plays. The new physical and mental demands of an eight-shows-a-week starring role could be just what the young actor needs at this point in his career to establish himself as an adult in the acting profession and disassociate himself from the Harry Potter films. The character of J. Pierrepont Finch is a charismatic and idealistic young man. He makes professional and personal blunders throughout the musical, but as How to Succeed is a musical comedy, he inevitably ends up on his feet. Radcliffe has demonstrated that he possesses the charisma, the theatrical experience and the stamina to take on a role that has led to Tony Awards for two other actors. He is courageously throwing himself into the highly critical pit of a new genre.
So could Radcliffe make a triumphant turn in this revival? This blogger is staying optimistic.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying will begin previews at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (302 W. 45th St., New York, NY) on February 26, 2011 and open on March 27. Along with Radcliffe, it includes a cast of Tammy Blanchard, Ros
e Hemingway, John Larroquette, and Anderson Cooper as the Voice of the Narrator.
Robert Morse performs “Rosemary” in the 1967 film adaptation:
Matthew Broderick leads the 1995 revival cast in “The Brotherhood of Man” at the 1995 Tony Awards:
Daniel Radcliffe sings “The Elements” on the Graham Norton show in November 2010:
Alexandra is a sophomore at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing. She is a self-proclaimed Broadway fanatic.
Photo courtesy of Fanpop.