Running from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 at the Rotunda Theatre, Queen’s Musical Theatre presents their own take on the Tony-award winning musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
The production follows the story of J. Pierrepont Finch, played by Cristina Gonçalves, on his journey from being a lowly window washer to the chairman of the board at a large corporation.
Complete with vague motivational posters, fake plants and generic office supplies scattered throughout, the set of the upcoming Queen’s Musical Theatre (QMT) performance looks like it’s straight out of The Office. There’s also a water cooler and coffee maker set up on either side of the stage which the audience is encouraged to come up and use during the show.
Prior to the performance, the MC explained this interactive encouragement is the use of a theory called two-way theatre. Here, attempts are made to break down the barrier between performers and the audience.
At certain points, Finch refers to a book that instructs him how to succeed in business. Bringing in the narration from off stage and invites viewers into the production even more, the method of two-way theatre is used again as an audience member is given the book and a mic and asked to read at the appropriate times.
The production had strong performances throughout — the music and choreography were flawlessly performed and the cast’s comfort with each other was palpable. The comedic timing was wonderful with Chris Johnson as the Bud Frump and Alisha Grech as Smitty — nephew of the big boss at the corporation and an office secretary, respectively getting big laughs throughout.
Having a live band in the theatre was another unique touch that really made the show. It added to the feel of a large-scale musical production and brought the atmosphere of the show to life.
While watching the show, I couldn’t help but wonder what went into QMT’s decision of choosing How to Succeed in Business, as it’s final production this semester. Although all technical aspects of the show —including singing, costumes and sets — were well executed and highly entertaining, I couldn’t shake the question of “why this show?”
With song titles like “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” and “A Secretary is Not a Toy,” the show has distinctly patriarchal undertones and promotes all the tropes of a boys club business model without any of the critique similar shows like Death of a Salesman provide. If the intent was satirical then the tone didn’t transfer.
I believe that theatre performances — and art in general — can be created for the sake of entertainment.
However, I think that on a campus where sexual assault is far from uncommon and when new allegations of misconduct by powerful men are coming out everyday, it’s important to think of what kind of stories we’re telling and who they serve.
QMT’s production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was strong across all its technical aspects, with lively performances, fun choreography and a wonderful live band that drew in the audience members. Still, the stellar performances couldn’t distract me from wondering “why this show and why now?”
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