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Theatre / How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

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A bit of musical theatre written by Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, which was first staged in 1961. It's based on a book by Shepherd Mead, which had the subtitle "The Dastard's Guide to Fame and Fortune." The show takes a similar tone.

The story starts out with a kid named J. Pierrepont Finch, a window-washer at the World Wide Wicket company (no, that's not a Stealth Pun, this was The '60s). He's reading from the eponymous book, quotes from which are often provided by a disembodied Narrator. After a Crash-Into Hello with the president of the company, Finch gets a proper job. Now, with only advice from the book, Indy Ploys, and a Twinkle Smile to aid him, Finch must work his way up the corporate ladder, with the help and/or opposition of (amongst others): Bud Frump, nephew of WWW current president J.B. Biggley; Femme Fatale Hedy LaRue, who is having an affair with Biggley but causes instant attraction from just about any male character; Rosemary Pilkington, his Love Interest; and his own plans and schemes, which have a tendency to Go Horribly Right.

The Film of the Play, directed by David Swift and starring Robert Morse, Michele Lee, Rudy Vallee, and Sammy Smith (reprising their respective roles of Finch, Rosemary, Mr. Biggly, and Mr. Twimble / Wally Whomper from the Broadway original) came out in 1967. The show was revived on Broadway in '95 with Matthew Broderick as Finch and Walter Cronkite reading the book, for which Broderick won a Lead Actor Tony. Its 50th-anniversary revival in 2011 starred Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. In what may be a Casting Gag, Radcliffe was replaced by Darren Criss (who also played Harry Potter in A Very Potter Musical), in January 2012 for a two-week run, to be replaced again by Nick Jonas.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a product of the then subject of the American Cyclic National Fascination (late '50s to early '60s) — advertising agencies.

This musical contains examples of the following:

  • Affectionate Parody: "Rosemary" is one of "Maria" from West Side Story — not only do they sound the same and involve (roughly) the same name, but Finch has the same overreaction that Tony does... without even getting a kiss!
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: a bit more of one than the average, since the original was a satirical Faux-To Guide without much in the way of plot.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Frump can come off as this, especially in the movie. Given that Charles Nelson Reilly originated the part on Broadway, this shouldn't be a surprise.
  • Anti-Hero: Finch, the protagonist, while thoroughly charming, is a conniving backstabber willing to do anything to climb the corporate ladder. Yet subverted at the same time by Robert Morse's film depiction of Finch, who is genuinely kind and respectful towards most of the characters (even Bud Frump) while nonetheless manipulating them for his ambitions, culminating in his saving his rivals' jobs (and putting them in debt to him) with the song "Brotherhood of Man". Some stage productions follow this film version of Finch while others follow the original edgier stage version of Finch.
  • Aside Glance: Whenever he sees that one of his plans has worked, Finch looks directly at the audience and smiles.
  • Big Bad: Bud Frump is Finch's primary antagonist, and the only person who really tries to stop Finch from achieving anything. Of course, since he is also the only character who knows what the audience knows — that Finch is an Anti-Hero Bitch in Sheep's Clothing — this can lead to a certain amount of Rooting for the Empire.
  • Book Ends: the musical opens with Finch as a window-washer, and ends with Frump resignedly getting demoted to the position.
  • Brick Joke: Venezuela. When the head of Finch's department, Mr. Gatch, is caught with Hedy and Finch takes over the office, someone calls and asks where Gatch went. Finch replies that he's been transferred to an out-of-town office, and concludes the call with "Venezuela!". And when Hedy corners him in J.B.'s office, she hits on him and says that he's going places, to which he replies, "yeah, Venezuela!"
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Hedy (something instilled in her by her mother) which causes the Treasure Hunt show to end in disaster because Mr. Bigby had let slip to her where the prize was hidden when she wasn't supposed to know.
  • Casting Gag: Most major productions have relied on authoritative-sounding and recognizable broadcasters to record the part of the "voice" of the Book — Carl Princi, Walter Cronkite and Anderson Cooper being the most notable examples.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Rosemary.
  • Counterpoint Duet: "I Believe In You"
  • Crowd Song
  • Dance Line
  • Double Vision: The parts of Mr. Twimble and Wally Whomper are usually played by the same actor.
  • Dresses the Same: "Paris Original" takes this to its logical extent by having all the secretaries walk into a company party wearing the same gown.
  • Everyone Has Standards: For all of his Yes-Man attitude, Mr. Twimble is reluctant to promote Bud Frump, nephew to Mr. Bigby or not.
  • Evil Counterpart: In the film, Bud Frump is this to Finch, making the film's Finch that much more sympathetic. Whereas Finch moves ahead by playing off people's need for flattery and cunning misrepresentation of himself but never makes any effort to harm anyone else, Frump moves ahead by shameless extortion and threats of blackmail that could ruin a marriage.
  • Faux-To Guide: The titular guide, a satirical guide on how to become a businessman, which relies a lot on nepotism, lying, and other unethical businesses that turn out to actually work.
  • Femme Fatale: Hedy.
  • First Girl Wins: Rosemary.
  • Football Fight Song: "Grand Old Ivy", sung by Finch and Biggley as Finch is pretending he went to Biggley's alma mater.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage:
    • Slightly justified, since it is the sixties, but still. Finch realizes he's in love with Rosemary and proposes to her on the spot. Of course, it's then subverted by Hedy showing up and Rosemary leaving Finch almost immediately, so... (Of course, then that's subverted by Rosemary coming back in to chase Hedy off and kissing Finch again.)
    • Played even more bizarrely with Hedy and Mr. Whomper getting married after meeting once.
  • Gold Digger: All of the women, as exemplified by "Cinderella, Darling".
  • Grande Dame: Mr. Biggley's secretary, Miss Jones, has some affinities with the type.
  • Guile Hero: Finch, Finch, Finch. A man who rose from lowly mailroom employee to Chairman of the Board in about two weeks with a combination of telling people what they want to hear and discrediting his rivals.
  • Here We Go Again!: The ending has Frump now as a window-washer, now discovering and reading the titular book.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "I Believe in You", the first version, where Finch sings it to himself.
  • Karma Houdini: Though his job is briefly put in jeopardy by Bud Frump's conniving, Finch gets away with his own mendacious, schmoozing and double-dealing ways — except for the coda that shows Frump getting his hands on the book, meaning that Finch is going to have a powerful rival, if not an embittered and vengeful enemy, down the line. In the film version, where Finch is a little more heroic and Frump a little more villainous to conform to Hollywood moral standards, the hint that Frump will take lasting revenge beyond the Treasure Hunt is omitted entirely.
  • Love Epiphany: "Rosemary". Strangely, Finch has this while kissing another woman.
  • Mickey Mousing: "Gotta Stop That Man". Specifically, the orchestra imitates the sound of an electric razor by playing the tune on kazoos.
  • Mirror Monologue: Finch sings "I Believe In You" to his reflection in the executive washroom mirror.
  • Momma's Boy: Frump's mother is always calling to nag Mr. Bigby to give him a promotion.
  • Must Have Caffeine: "Coffee Break" has all the workers freak out about a lack of coffee in the break room, treating their coffee break as Serious Business and claiming without it, "Something within [them] dies!"
  • Nepotism: Budd Frump is the nephew of the boss's wife; bonus points for actually being a nephew (the root of the word "nepotism").
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Both played straight and inverted. The role of Finch involves as much acting as singing, not to mention some dancing, and skill in one can compensate for lack of ability in the other. This is part of why it's a popular show for high-school theatre (or amongst film actors trying to break into Broadway).
  • The Quiet One: Miss Jones, until "Brotherhood of Man."
  • Quitting to Get Married: Rosemary and the other secretaries at World Wide Wicket actually aspire to the "glorified unemployment" of suburban homemaking.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: The fate of anyone whom Mr. Biggley finds with Hedy.
  • The Scapegoat: Invoked; Finch's book tells him that the most important thing to do in a disaster is to find someone to blame. JB is willing to throw Finch under the bus for the scavenger hunt snafu, but Finch saves himself by pointing to Bud as the one who had the idea, while outing him as the boss's nephew to boot.
  • Sexy Secretary: Quite a few of the secretaries use their looks to get ahead, prompting Mr. Bratt to rebuke several of the others in the "A Secretary is Not a Toy" number.
  • Shout-Out: Hedy Larue in the 2010 revival looks quite a bit like another gorgeous redhead secretary from the same time period...
  • Silly Love Songs: Every Broadway musical is required to include at least one, and this show's silly love is "I Believe In You"; it's sung twice, first by J. Pierrepont Finch to himself, and then by Rosemary as a pep talk when it looks like everything has gone wrong and J. Pierrepont is probably going to get fired.
  • Spelling for Emphasis: J. Pierrepont Finch has a habit of spelling out his last name when introducing himself.
  • Standard Office Setting: It takes place entirely in the headquarters of the World Wide Wicket company. Being set in the 60's, the office lacks cubicles but is full of secretaries, office romance, and elevators. The company operates an entire skyscraper which includes both giant rooms filled with desks and opulent executive rooms.
  • Stepford Smiler: Rosemary looks like she's going to become one (see her Establishing Character Moment, "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm"). This is clearly Played for Laughs. It's a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of a 60's housewife.
  • Twinkle Smile: Which doubles as an Aside Glance.
  • Values Dissonance: Invoked and Lampshaded in the 2010 Broadway production. When some of the misogyny was booed, Alan Cumming snapped to the audience, "Hey, it was The '50s!" That Throw It In line became used in every performance of the run since.
    • In a surprising gender reversed example, Hedy threatening to lie to Bigley about Finch kissing her if he doesn't kiss her for real is played off as nothing when it would be acknowledged as sexual harassment in the modern day.
  • Yes-Man: Mr. Twimble, the head of the mailroom, is a pleasant man overall, but has made sychophantry his mantra, as shown by his replies to Finch's questions in "The Company Way":
    Finch: Supposing the company thinks...
    Twimble: I think so too.

Alternative Title(s): How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying