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‘How to Succeed in Business’ gets the job done in Torrance

Picture an organization of white men, led by those who don’t exactly function on the highest ethical standards. They hire based on similarities to themselves. They’re served by a platoon of women, yet the men need to be taught how to speak to and behave with the women. The gals, however, are not without their own sets of machinations.

Of course we’re talking about “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” the musical currently in production by Torrance Theatre Company at the James Armstrong Theatre.

In 1961, writers Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert turned Shepherd Mead’s satirical 1952 book, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” into this musical, adding the lively lyrics and catchy music by Frank Loesser.

It tells of the rise — meteoric would be an understatement — of clever young J. Pierrepont Finch (Brady Schwind) as he arrives, with Mead’s book in hand, for his first day of work as a window washer at The World Wide Wicket Company. Finch’s ambition is to stop climbing the building and start climbing the organizational chart.

He quickly catches the attention of Rosemary (Allison Boettcher), who sweetly imparts her business savvy, though, this being the 1960s, she can’t take her own advice to rise through the executive ranks.

However, Rosemary ne her romantic savvy goosed, and for that she has her fellow secretary, Smitty (Jade Taylor). Rosemary doesn’t even mind when Finch gives away the flower she had given him; he uses it to tactically approach Miss Jones (Catherine Rahm), the big boss’ secretary.

But first, Finch must bypass Bud Frump (Bryan Eid). Bud is monstrously immature, repulsively evil, one of the great characters in musical comedy. He’s also the boss’ nephew — a relationship that gives rise to some of the funniest lines in the show.

That boss is J.B. Biggley (Gary Kresca). He’s annoyed by phone calls from his wife (unseen), but he sure sweetens up when his sexpot mistress, Hedy LaRue (Rachel Langetieg), shows up, also with a set of ambitions.

In Torrance, Jim Hormel’s picturesque staging is sharp and looks thoroughly rehearsed, and the characters are, for the most part, neither too realistic nor too cartoonish.

Christopher M. Albrecht’s choreography nails the era and suits the skills of the performers, even adding a squad of football players in the Finch-Biggley duet, “Old Ivy,” in which Finch makes his boss think they attended the same college.

Bravo, also, to costumer Bradley Allen Lock, not only for the women’s office wear throughout the show but also for the old-school football helmets in this number.

The action throughout spreads nicely across the stage and along a second-story platform, giving the impression of a busy company. By using floor-to-ceiling panels at the sides of the stage, technical director/set designer Cary Jordahl provides an extra flourish while tying the two levels together. These panels contain large lozenge shapes that change colors in 1960s palettes, as the musical’s many settings — including a mailroom complete with mail slots, drawers, clocks and a chunky dial phone — zip on and off the stage.

On opening night, the orchestra wasn’t up to the company’s usual standards, and perhaps that’s why the voices weren’t hitting all the notes as written. The performers tidied up the vocals in Act 2, particularly in the chorus numbers, under Bradley Hampton’s music direction.

We may well wonder if in the 1950s the book felt like a satire on that era’s ethics, or if in the 1960s this then-new musical was seen as promoting feminism. Today, it just feels like we need to be seeing it — somewhat for the reminders but mostly for the fun.

Dany Margolies is a Los Angeles-based writer.

‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’

Rating: 3.5 stars

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25; ends Aug. 25

Where: James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance

Suitability: Ages 10 through adult.

Length: 2 hours and 50 minutes, including intermission

Tickets: $35

Information: 424-243-6882, 310-781-7171, www.torrancetheatrecompany.com

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