How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

H2S-OBCOriginal Broadway Cast, 1961 (RCA) 3 Stars (3 / 5) George S. Kaufman said that “satire is what closes on Saturday night,” but that certainly did not apply to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. In its original Broadway run, the show saw three-and-a-half-years’ worth of Saturday nights. With an incisive book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert, this is a musical comedy that’s truly funny — and it’s got a great Frank Loesser score, from the mock-romantic “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and the intentionally syrupy “Love From a Heart of Gold” to the caffeine-inspired “Coffee Break.” Other highlights are the business-rule numbers “The Company Way” and “A Secretary Is Not a Toy.” Judging by this recording, the original cast was energetic, but star Robert Morse is an acquired taste — and there’s a lot of him here. Although he has the right kind of youthful ebullience for go-getter J. Pierrepont Finch, his singing is best described as “characterful” rather than good. Morse’s leading lady, Bonnie Scott, tends to bray Rosemary’s songs. Charles Nelson Reilly as Finch’s rival, Bud Frump, and Rudy Vallee as company president J. B. Biggley come across much better, as do Sammy Smith and Virginia Martin in their supporting roles. Overall, How to Succeed . . . succeeds nicely. — Matthew Murray

H2S-filmFilm Soundtrack, 1967 (United Artists/MGM) 2 Stars (2 / 5) Several of the original Broadway cast members appear in the film version of How to Succeed…, but Michele Lee is Rosemary, and she does a much better job with the songs than Bonnie Scott, sounding warmer and far more natural. However, she doesn’t have many songs: “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “Paris Original” were both excised from the stage score for the movie. Lee does perform a solo version of “I Believe in You,” but is otherwise heard only in the trio “Been a Long Day.” Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, Sammy Smith, John Myhers (as Mr. Bratt), and Ruth Kobart (as J. B. Biggley’s executive secretary) all sound good here, and although Anthony Teague doesn’t have Charles Nelson Reilly’s nervous energy, he’s fine as Frump. The “Coffee Break” number is on this soundtrack album but is not in the film, having been cut from it. While the incompleteness of this recording diminishes its appeal, avid Loesser fans may value it. — M.M.

H2S-BroderickBroadway Cast, 1995 (RCA) 2 Stars (2 / 5) This is a very full recording. In addition to the show’s voice-over passages (spoken by Walter Cronkite!), it includes some incidental music, a number of reprises, and even the Pirate Dance. The album boasts new orchestrations by Danny Troob that are even brassier than the originals, a reworked “Brotherhood of Man” with a lot of scatting from Lillias White as Miss Jones, and a new second-act opener. There’s also a reprise of the title song (with new lyrics written by the production’s director, Des McAnuff) in place of the cut “Cinderella, Darling.”  If these changes aren’t really improvements, neither are they significant detriments. Megan Mullally is an ideal Rosemary, and Victoria Clark provides a very well sung Smitty. Jeff Blumenkrantz is Frump; other roles are well done by Ronn Carroll, Gerry Vichi, and Jonathan Freeman. Luba Mason’s Hedy is a bit too vacant, though she makes quite a vocal effect when she slides up a full octave at the end of “Love From a Heart of Gold.” But then there’s Matthew Broderick, singing and acting in the same constipated style that he would later bring to The Producers and  other shows. While he hits all the right notes in Finch’s songs and only sounds strained a couple of times, he never sounds real. — M.M.