The 1961 Broadway blockbuster musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" is now old enough to be played straight, without apology, as a period piece. There's no need for postmodern irony to mock the early 1960s corporate zeitgeist, whereby men ran the world, women ran for coffee, the stock market was the new frontier and Kennedy-era optimism was taken for granted. Yes, let's be respectful of a show that won the Pulitzer Prize. (Maybe the song, "A Secretary is Not a Toy" broke some new sociological ground?)
As produced by the C.A.S.T. (Community Alliance Supporting Theatre) theater group in McLean, this is a sprightly, innocent satire of big business, done with a smile and no dark hints of the corporate sins we now read about every day. With a script by Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, the team that gave us "Guys and Dolls" (the greatest musical of all time), this show is all guys and dollars. It has a bouncy, clever score, a bunch of comically offbeat characters and a starring role that requires a breakout talent in order for the show to succeed without being trying.
That talent would be Josh Doyle, new to the McLean stage, starring as J. Pierpont Finch. Finch is a window washer with an engaging grin who buys the self-help book "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying." The book helps propel him from a workman's ladder to the corporate ladder. Finch also manages to instantly find true love.
Doyle brings to mind both Robert Morse, who originated the role onstage and on film, and Matthew Broderick, who played the part in a 1995 Broadway revival. Charming and loose-limbed, Doyle sings and dances with comic suavity, an almost impossible combination, having Finch do clever, manipulative things without seeming nasty.
Director Jeffrey R. Breslow stages the show as it might have been seen in 1961, even making rare use of several proscenium curtains at the Alden Theatre to provide old-fashioned scene segues. A lively, 22-member cast populates a Manhattan workplace that runs on caffeine and hormones in a refreshingly straightforward rendering of the material. Who cares if it's all politically incorrect now? Breslow's retro staging gives us permission to relax and just enjoy the silliness, even as Elisa A. Rosman's polished nine-piece ensemble pumps Loesser's score full of life at full volume.
The song "Coffee Break" is memorable for its stylish choreography, courtesy of Amy Carson. "Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm," beautifully led by clarion-voiced Sharon Grant as Rosemary (the secretary who falls for Finch), is remarkable for presenting a pre-feminist yearning for security without self-consciousness. And "Grand Old Ivy" stands out as a melodic and witty anthem allowing Doyle and Ed Broyles (who plays company president J. B. Bigley) to strut their stuff hailing the older man's alma mater.
But there is only one hit from this show that instantly became a standard, and that's "I Believe in You," Finch's ode to himself, sung to a mirror. Oddly, for a show that's otherwise so energetic, this hit song lacks energy here, with Doyle not giving himself fully to the concept. But it's a small imperfection in a production full of engaging performances, including Terry Spann as the unctuous Mr. Bratt (the personnel chief) and Joshua Redford as the smarmy Bud Frump, Bigley's nephew and Finch's rival since their days in the mailroom.
Bill Glikbarg's simple, highly functional design shows the corporate world as a marble-columned, secular temple high above a thriving metropolis, a perfect home for what Tom Wolfe would later call the masters of the universe. Barbara Cobb's costumes for the ladies are colorful 1960s office chic, attractive armor in this mismatched battle of the sexes.
"How to Succeed" concludes this weekend at the Alden Theatre, McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. Showtime is 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets can be purchased in person from the Alden Theatre Box Office or through Ticketmaster (703-573-SEAT or www.ticketmaster.com). For information, visit www.castinmclean.org.