Everyone on stage has clearly thrown all his or her energy into CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s current production of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” running now through Sept. 14. The show, a satire of corporate life in the 1950s, practically glows with their enthusiasm.
The musical itself, however, is darker than you might think. Though the stage is regularly full of bright colors and bouncy songs, “How to Succeed” is a sharp-edged parody of a “Man Men” style business world. Everyone on stage is either stupid, ruthless or both, and the only redeeming quality to be found in any character is cleverness.
Though the business world has changed a great deal since the 1950s, some of the workplace-related jokes still inspired plenty of laughs from the audience. Fashion styles may change, but incompetent managers and ludicrous memos last forever. One number, a paean to parroting company policy called “The Company Way,” is particularly clever.
The jokes about relationships don’t hold up nearly as well. Though the cast tries to imbue the exchanges with a desperately needed deadpan wink, sexual harassment is just not funny. It’s especially not funny enough to make an entire song out of, a well-choreographed number called “A Secretary Is Not A Toy.”
The idea that a woman’s highest ambition is to marry a successful businessman isn’t that hilarious, either, though Courtney Jensen gave her character Rosemary just enough of a knowing, predatory edge to make the audience chuckle despite themselves.
Stephen Chucay, playing villain Bud Frump in the opening night cast, played his character as a walking caricature of the smug, whiny sort of man who can only experience success through nepotism. He was like a walking neon sign reminding the audience that nothing in the show should be taken seriously, doing everything with a flourish that emphasized the humor in several scenes. Christy Stolworthy, as vamp Hedy LaRue, gives her character the same kind of comic exuberance.
In the end, though, even the best delivery can’t ensure the success of a joke. What really matters is whether the audience finds it funny.