Director Des McAnuff’s Tony-winning revival of the musical classic by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows, which hits town with Ralph Macchio in the lead, still skewers corporate America with bright, boisterous fun. McAnuff’s principal update of the show is the dazzling set designed by John Arnone, which includes a huge video back wall that hosts computer-generated scenes and other effects that launch the play into new, post-modern dimensions. Pulling from sources as disparate as Mondrian, German expressionism and American advertising, McAnuff cheerily deconstructs the Golden Age of American business, with only a hint of the darkness around the edges. In this way, McAnuff is entirely faithful to the original play, which poked good-natured jibes at the American corporation, without ever crossing the line to explicit social critique.
McAnuff also is true to the emotional core of the show, which depicts the world of the big corporation as simply a big playpen for grownups, where greed, ambition and lust run rampant, but all safely within the confines of the seersucker suit. While the hyperkinetic pace of the show and the broad style of acting are more familiar to a generation of ’90s TV viewers than they would be to Frank Loesser or Abe Burrows, the intention is the same to lampoon the silliness of grownup pursuits, particularly in the modern and even post-modern era. Ralph Macchio in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch, who rises from window-washer to chairman of the board, is fine, with a strong voice and winsome charm. While he will inevitably be compared with Robert Morse, who originated the role, and Matthew Broderick, who played it in the La Jolla Playhouse and Broadway versions of this revival, Macchio manages to carve out some territory of his own and carry the show with verve. Shauna Hicks is charming as Macchio’s girlfriend, Rosemary, with the no-nonsense appeal that is a hallmark of this kind of role. Roger Bart performs hyperactive wizardry as the boss’s nephew, Bud Frump, who devilishly schemes Finch’s demise. John Deyle is a standout as Bert Bratt, the obsequious sycophant. Other fine performances are Richard Thomsen as the boss, J.B. Biggley, who struts imperiously in his golfing attire while chanting the Groundhog cheer; Susann Fletcher as Rosemary’s sidekick, Smitty; Pamela Blair as Biggley’s dumb-blonde girlfriend; Michael Cone as the self-made chairman of the board; and Tina Fabrique as Biggley’s tough-talking secretary who belts out the show-stopping finale, “Brotherhood of Man.”
Choreographer Wayne Cilento makes a major contribution to the evening with his imaginative staging of numbers like “Coffee Break,” “A Secretary Is Not a Toy” and “Brotherhood of Man.” While the raucous dance and variety numbers are pure joy to watch, the performances of the ballads “I Believe in You” and “Rosemary” fail to reach the deeper resonance of the original show. The touring orchestra of synthesizers and a few instruments provides a bold, credible sound, and the voiceover narration by Walter Cronkite gives an extra humorous dimension to the production. Costumes by Susan Hilferty are also a treat to see, from the seersucker suits to the “straight-from-Paris” fashions of the day. Hoyt Hillsman