Madison nails sets, costumes, lighting along with spot on characterizations in ‘How to Succeed’


Pictured: Daxx Weisner and Shannon Michelson as Finch and Rosemary. (Tracy Meadows)

All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.

Gretchen Kuhn, a student at Briar Woods High School reviews ”Blithe Spirit”, performed by James Madison High School , as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program .

In a time so far removed from the labors of our founding fathers it is reassuring to note that old-fashioned virtues and dedication are still the cornerstones of success in the business world - that is unless there exists a small book to guide you on your journey to the top, in which case your path will more likely involve sly manipulation and a winning smile. James Madison High School explored the results of the latter path with great success in their production of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.

Based on the book by Shepherd Mead with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, the show opened on Broadway in 1961 and ran for a total of 1,417 performances, amassing seven Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize. Two revivals of the show, in 1995 and 2011, featured Matthew Broderick and more recently, Daniel Radcliffe and Nick Jonas as J. Pierrepont Finch. Young Finch begins his career as a window washer aspiring to a lofty executive position and, with the advice of a small book, begins his assent through the corporate world. He finds, however, that success is hardly achieved through a simple step by step process. Problems arise in the form of a flirtatious secretary, a lovely coworker, and the sniveling nephew of the big cheese himself.

Daxx Wieser led the cast as the brash and cunning J. Pierrepont Finch, bringing his own bright smile, clear voice, and youthful energy. Though portraying a man of questionable methods, Wieser never left in doubt Finch’s charming appeal. Patrick Shaughnessy played the president of the World Wide Wicket Company, J. B. Biggley, with the perfect balance of executive authority and humor. A rabid alum, Shaughnessy was at his most entertaining when discussing with fervor his less-than-renowned alma mater Old Ivy. 

Upon the arrival of the alluring secretary, Hedy LaRue, all heads turn, some even roll, and Samantha Ross’ performance assured that it was all for good reason. With a high, flirtatious, voice, dainty mannerisms and even a hint of innocence (though not in the ways of Cupid), Ross was a riot. Josh Culhane, as Biggley’s incompetent nephew Bud Frump, stole his own share of the spot light with his charming gawkiness and a few unexpected dance moves.

The ensemble maintained their energy and focus throughout most of the show, but the executives quickly established themselves as the group to watch. Each character was clearly defined, clearly executed and, judging from audience reaction, clearly hilarious. The group’s gung-ho rendition of Brotherhood of Man, complete with intensely physical choreography showcased their full capabilities.

Smooth and coordinated tech work rounded out the show. The great care put into costumes, hair, makeup, and props created appearances that seemed perfectly appropriate to the time period. The creative use of spot lights generated an impressive effect during the reading of the book while the set changes - largely accomplished by actors, but prepared by tech – were efficient and made good use of the functional set, especially the well-timed, opening, elevator doors operated by crew members.

Though there may not actually be a guide book on how to succeed in business without really trying, James Madison High School could certainly write one on theater, as their outstanding and nearly flawless performance appeared almost effortless.

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