How to Succeed in Theatre: The 5th Avenue’s How to Succeed in Business Has What It Takes

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

It has been a very long time since I went to the theatre and smiled the entire time!  I’ve always been a fan of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but given its 1960s campy nature and goofy storyline, it can be a cheesy mess from the first note if not done well.  And people, the 5th Avenue not only did this show well, they knocked it out of the friggin park!

Let’s start with the music, shall we?  I’ve said in numerous of my reviews of musicals, if you’re going to do a musical, the music better be good, and the music in this show is impeccable!  The orchestra is so on point, I even loved the overture!  And I hate overtures!  And the cast, every voice up there on an even keel of excellence, I don’t even know where to start.

Oh yes, I do, let’s start with the show’s leading character, J. Pierrepont Finch played by the delightful and adorable Eric Ankrim.  This kid!  This ridiculously talented kid stole my heart right out the gate.  He brings to life the ambitious Finch in the most captivating way.  The protagonist in this story, Finch is a window washer hellbent on climbing his way up the corporate ladder by following the rules of a book called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the show follows his journey from the mailroom to the boardroom, and all the steps in between.  He’s cunning, calculating, creative, and downright charming all the way through.  You root for him whether you want to or not, whether he deserves it or not, you just want him to get everything he desires because he’s so damn likable!  Outstanding acting, the perfect tenor voice, and wonderful dancing, Mr. Ankrim is a triple threat, the likes of which I haven’t seen on a young male actor since I moved back to Seattle.  I loved him so much, that his performance alone has me already planning another trip to the 5th Avenue to see this again.  Bravo, Mr. Ankrim, I’m a huge fan of yours!  Bravo!

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Sarah Rose Davis and Eric Ankrin                                                                          Photo by Tracy Martin

The leading lady to our leading man is a lovely secretary named Rosemary Pilkington, played by the incomparable Sarah Rose Davis.  I’ve been watching Ms. David on stage since her Issaquah Kidstage days, and to this day she is my favorite Eponine I’ve ever seen live.  But I digress, Ms. Davis has blossomed into one hell of a performer, and everything she did on that stage blew me away!  Her voice, as angelic as ever, but with a grown up strength and professional finesse.  Her acting, perfectly on point with stupendous comedic timing, matching Mr. Ankrim beat for delicious beat.  Her dancing, delightful and playful, and also just downright likable.  You root for Rosemary as much as you root for Finch, and the emotional journey Ms. Davis takes us on through this show will have you giggling along with her, pining along with her, and hoping and praying she gets all that her heart desires.  There are actors, and then there are stars, and Ms. Davis is definitely a star.  Broadway better get ready, because I’ve no doubt that is where she is headed, and it will be so amazing to watch the journey.  Well done, young lady!  Bravo, and thank you for an amazing night of theatre!

I could gush about each individual cast member in this show, which would keep you reading forever, so let me just say that all around the cast was phenomenal.  Each character fully developed from the CEO to mailroom boy to the left and everyone in between, each dance step perfectly danced, each note right on pitch.  They all worked together beautifully to bring this world to life.  I had so much fun!  Bravo to the entire ensemble!

 

But before I move on to the design and direction, I do have to call out one other performance that blew my friggin mind!  Hedy LaRue played by Jessica Skerritt.  People!

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Jessica Skerritt (center  in green) as Hedy LaRue        Photo by Tracy Martin

People!  People!  This chick’s acting chops, I can’t!  I just can’t!  She’s soooooooooo friggin good!  And I apologize for not being more eloquent, but there aren’t words for how amazing she is in this role.  And having just seen Ms. Skerritt in the Sound of Music in December, well, seeing her go from an Austrian Baroness to a mistress-extraordinaire both played beautifully, the range on this superb actress is just astounding.  She’s a true chameleon, and she stole this show for me.  Good on her for taking the risks she took with this role, for her commitment to this wonderful character, and for making me long to be tall with legs for days!  I’m such a fan of Ms. Skerritt’s and will go see anything and everything she is in, cuz wow!  Just simply wow!

Now, on to the design…every element was as impeccable and perfect as the cast!  The How_to_Succeed_06_Sarah_Rose_Davis_Eric_Ankrim_and_Sarah_Rudinoff_credit_Tracy_Martin-600x400costumes, so period perfect, so wonderfully constructed, each new piece was better than the ones before.  The specifics that costumer Rose Pederson created in these pieces, from the specific color choices per character (Rosemary’s pink dresses were absolutely stunning), to the uniformity of the executives, to the flirtatious frocks of Ms. LaRue were absolutely dazzling.

The set design was a-maz-ing!  Color blocks of panels moving through the space as if choreographed along with the cast created a kaleidoscope of a world that kept me on the edge of my seat.  How would it move next?  Oh my god, that panel opens!?!?  What?  No it did not just slide that way!  Yeah, that’s how my brain went throughout this show overtime there was a scene shift.  I am so impressed with what scenic designers Tom Sturge and David Sumner pulled off for this show.  Bravo, fellas, bravo!

A show this big needs a solid director at the helm, and Mr. Bill Berry did a brilliant job with this show.  He cast it perfectly, staged it brilliantly, and clearly spent quite a bit of time on character development with each actor, because no matter if the stage only held Finch and Rosemary or if the entire cast was dancing and singing about the Brotherhood of Man, each actor on that stage was so clear in their intentions and character choices, that I was highly, highly impressed.  Mr. Berry’s concept for the show was crystal clear, he didn’t fudge with the script or try to make it something it wasn’t.  He embraced this Mad Men-esque world, and brought to life a fun-filled, lively show that anyone who sees it will leave with a smile on their face, and a song in their heart.  I know I was randomly just singing “Roooooooosemary” for at least a week afterwards.  Wonderful!  Outstanding!  Well done, Sir!

And much like Mr. Ankrim and Ms. Davis complimenting each other, so Mr. Berry’s perfect counterpart was music director Dan Pardo.  As stated above, Mr. Pardo’s music direction was fantastic!  Everything musical was perfect, every single note!

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How to Succeed in Business Ensemble                      Photo by Mark Kitaoka

And I save the best for last, because the choreography!  OH!  The wonderful, beautiful, fun, feisty, fantastic choreography done by Bob Richard!  I. LOVED. IT!  Mr. Richard did the one thing I’ve been yearning for in a show: a choreographer who uses the talent of his dancers to the best of their ability.  Were there tap sequences?  Yes! But only by the dancers who could tap his combinations.  Were there complicated jazz sequences? Yes! But the strong jazz dancers.  And when the whole cast was moving on the stage, the choreography was perfectly suited for every dancer up there!  My favorite numbers were both in Act II.  Cinderella, Darling and Brotherhood of Man took a tie for gold for the best in the show.  Thank you for a wonderful show, Mr. Richard!

This show had so many ups, and the few down weren’t really downs, but perhaps nerves at the top of the show that fizzled and died quickly as this highly skilled cast leaned into each other to pull off one of the best night’s of theatre I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Congratulations to the cast, crew, and creative team of How to Succeed!  You earned the rousing standing ovation you got the night I was there by the entire audience, and will enjoy, I’ve no doubt a standing ovation every night for the rest of the run.  Bravo!

I give this a thunderous applause and a very stern direction to all who read this to get thee1516_H2S_PageHeader_783x340 to the 5th Avenue Theatre and see this show before it closes on Feb 21!

Tickets and showtimes can be found on the 5th Avenue’s Website.

Ciao for now,

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The Hills are Very Much Alive at the 5th in Seattle!!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review, Theatre Review

People, people, people, let me start by saying I am a devoted fan of the Sound of Music film starring the phenomenal Julie Andrews, and my beloved Christopher Plummer, so I have purposefully stayed away from stage versions of the show for fear of it not living up to the beauty of the film I adore with every fiber of my being.

However, when I found out that Kirsten DeLohr Helland was playing Maria, I decided it was time to face my fears, because if anyone could make me fall just as in love with the stage version as I am with the film, it would be the ridiculously amazing talent of Ms. DeLohr Helland.  And I was not wrong!

I’m actually going to start with the design of this show, because the set was stunning, the costumes were perfection, and the lighting was inspired!  The set was marvelously constructed, utilizing the stage so beautifully, and from my seat in the balcony, I could still see every detail, and it truly brought Austria to life.  Small details pushed it over the edge of perfection into mesmerizing beauty from the intricate work on the Abbey gates, to the perfectly rounded staircase, to the trampoline of a bed for the thunder and lightening scene.  Each scene so perfectly design, so brilliantly built, and so expertly crewed, the scene transitions were seamless.  Glorious!  Thank you, Phillip Lienau for your stunning design, and congratulations on a highly successful debut  at the 5th Avenue! I look forward to seeing more of your work in shows to come.

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Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

 

The costumes, oh you guys, the costumes were absolutely stunning.  Again, the details made all the difference.  Things like the transition of vivid/bright colors on Frau Schraeder at the top of the show, to her muted subtle final outfit before she chooses to leave Austria showed her journey through her wardrobe!  Oh, and the delicious hot pink/purple hued tie on Uncle Max adding whimsy to his perfectly tailored suit that fit his character beautifully.  The perfectly constructed uniforms the children wear, and the absolutely menacing accuracy of the Nazi uniforms all enhanced the world of 1930s Austria on the verge of invasion, and I loved it.  My favorite piece is Maria’s wedding dress, it actually took my breath away.  That dress alone should have you all running to see this show!  Bravo to the entire costume team for bringing to life the sensational costume design by Melanie Taylor Burgess.

Lighting by Mary Louise Geiger, and sound design by Christopher Walker were spectacular throughout the show, especially during the thunder and lightening scene.  And through all the long belty numbers in this show, the sound was perfectly balanced, and even in the balcony, the sound was crisp and clean.  Well done to both of you and your board ops for a flawless tech of Wednesday night’s show.

Now, on to the performances!  People, this, THIS is a musical!  And it is anchored by Ms. DeLohr Helland so beautifully, I can’t EVEN with how good this chick is on stage!  A true chameleon she can literally play anything.  You’ll remember I raved about her amazing ability to bring a role to life in my review on American Idiot at ArtsWest, and she brought it even harder as Maria!  To take on an 5thSOM4iconic role like Maria, a role made so famous and so well known, Ms. DeLohr Helland literally made it her own!  She found nuances as Maria that were delightful and playful and while vastly different than the film, it was still so honest and true to the character.  I was worried she was too young for the role, but I was so very wrong.  Her youthful exuberance, her whimsical way of bonding and playing with the children was absolutely delightful to watch.  She was downright sprightly as she brought life and music back into the von Trapp family.  Her vocals, always on point, this chick can hold a note like you wouldn’t believe. She just floats in on out there and subtly and slowly pushes power to it and it just hooks your heart and makes you feel everything she’s feeling.  And then in the next breath she is playfully running down a scale to a low note that just, I mean, I can’t!  I just can’t!  She’s absolute musical theatre perfection!  I’m so impressed by this young actor, and am so excited for the future she has ahead of her.  Bravo!!!

And for all Ms. DeLohr Helland’s vivacious love of life as Maria, Hans Altwies’ straight laced, zero-fun-having, super-strict Captain von Trapp was her perfect match.  The chemistry between Ms. DeLohr Helland and Mr. Altwies was absolutely delicious, and let’s just say there’s a hot, steamy, unexpectedly hot and steamy, moment between these two that was so hot, I felt like I should look away because I truly felt like I was invading on a real, private moment!  Lawd!  I mean, honestly!  LOVED IT!  Like a moment out of a romance novel come to life!  Delicious!  Good on you both!  Ha!  Ok, sorry, I digress.

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Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

 

Back to Mr. Altwies, who absolutely commanded every scene he was in and his transformation from heartbroken, shut down widower, to doting father and husband was wonderful.  A lovely voice, quite alike in tone and power to Christopher Plummer’s, his Edelweiss brought me to tears.  A dynamic actor, a strong stage presence, and a lovely voice makes Mr. Altwies the perfect leading man.  Thank you for keeping true to all the layers of one of my most beloved, favorite characters, Mr. Altwies, I’m so much the better for having seen you play this role.  Bravo!

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Photo Credit: Tracy Martin

Now, can we talk about these children, please, because I mean, they were all fantastic, each and every one of them!  Little miss Gretl, played by Kendall Bonham is absolutely darling.  Marta, played by Isabel Menna was simply adorable.  Aubrey Thomas as Brigitta was sassy and smart and kept the adults on their toes!  Kurt, played by Coleman Hunter, was delightful and whimsical.  Victoria Ames Smith as Louisa was deliciously mischievous and lovable at the same time.  Mark Jeffrey James Weber was absolutely wonderful as Friedrich.  And Shaye Hodgins who played Liesl absolutely stole my heart.

 

Ms. Hodgins, who reminds me very much of another young actress I mentored once upon a time, who unfortunately was taken from us too soon. So watching Ms. Hodgins flit and float across the stage as a girl on the cusp of womanhood, I couldn’t help but remember, and I thank Ms. Hodgins for that.  Her portrayal of Liesl was delicate and honest.  She didn’t force any moments, and even carried her scenes with Rolf (played by Kody Bringman), who I found to be the most underwhelming performance in the show.  But honestly, it was hard to even care about that, or notice him, because Ms. Hodigns is so good in this role.  Her voice is angelic, her dancing filled with beauty and grace, and her acting chops completely on point to be a simply stunning Liesl von Trapp.  This one is one to watch for sure!

My hat is off to all seven children who brought the von Trapp children to life for Seattle audiences.  I just loved them all!  So much fun to watch!  Bravo!

Rounding out this cast were a mix of talent like I haven’t seen on a stage in a while!  Anne Allgood as Mother Abbess was sheer and complete brilliance!  Jessica Skerritt as Elsa Schraeder was stunning and powerfully confident.  David Pichette’s Max Detweiler was irresistibly delightful with genius comedic timing and delivery.  Frau Schmidt, played by Lori Larsen was a lovely combination of sass and strength.  And I was so excited to see Darragh Kennan on stage again (you might remember him from my review where I raved about him as Iago in Othello at Seattle Shakespeare), and he was brilliantly menacing and bone chilling as the Nazi Herr Zeller.  Any chance I get to see Mr. Kennan perform is a good day!

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A strong ensemble balanced this show perfectly from the waltzers at the party to the nuns at the Abbey.  Speaking of, the collection of voices on the group of nuns cast in this show was stupendous to behold!  Perfect harmonies, perfect pitch, they were wonderful!

This is my first David Bennett production, and I must say, what a wonderful director he must be to work with given the caliber of each performance on that stage from ensemble to lead and everything in between.  Mr. Bennett understands the beauty that comes from just letting actors stop moving and stand still and perform!  He put together such a lovely kaleidoscope of pictures that had me mesmerized from the first note to the last, and I was quite sad when it was over.  And the very last moment, the moment that happens before the lights go out revealed a secret in the set that was the perfect stage for one of the most stunning closing moments I have ever seen on stage, and it reminded me why I love this thing called musical theatre so friggin much!  A perfectly directed moment performed perfectly by the actors, yeah, this is not a show to miss, people.  Bravo, Mr. Bennett!  Thank you for this wonderful experience!

The last thing, and I know this post was long, but I had so much to share, was the music in this show was simply wonderful.  Every voice on stage, every instrument in the pit worked in perfect harmony without one glitch.  I’ve said it in so many posts, that if you’re going to do a musical, the music needs to be good.  Well this music transcended good right into epic! Thank you to Music Director Kat Sherrell for a wonderful night of music.

I give this a thunderous, tear-filled standing ovation!

The Sound of Music Plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through January 3rd, and I highly recommend you see this show.  Tickets and show information can be found on The 5th Avenue Theatre’s website.

Congrats and Bravo to all involved with this wonderful production.  It truly brightened up my holiday spirit!  5thSOM1

Ciao for now,

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Photos provided by The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Press Page