How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Every now and then a perfect cultural storm rolls into the complex intersection between TV, film, stage, music, pop culture and even the economy, drawing on all of them simultaneously to create a truly unique moment. One such occurrence is happening now on Broadway, with a shiny new 50th anniversary revival of Frank Loesser’s 1961 hit How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, starring erstwhile boy wizard Daniel Radcliffe, TV star John Laroquette, and the droll, non-giggling tones of Anderson Cooper in a culture-blending mash-up that draws from Star Trek and Mad Men as much as it does from Broadway history.

Following on from his critically acclaimed performance in Equus, Radcliffe has returned to NYC for his second Broadway starring role. Where Equus was a dark psychological analysis of a disturbed youth, How To Succeed is a brightly colored, infectiously energetic and hugely charming confectionary that belts out its song and dance numbers amidst ever-moving, coolly glowing TARDIS-like sets, and elevates the material in a raucous, entertaining manner through to its triumphant finale. Radcliffe has no problem shifting gears from one to the other, giving the impression that he was born and raised on the Broadway stage, American accent and dance moves comfortably in place. And he can belt out a tune with the best of them.

Image courtesy of derekmclane.org

While we’re still in the immediate, globe-spanning, culture-changing aftermath of the theatrical release of the final Harry Potter movie, the potentially disconcerting contrast of seeing the Boy Who Lived leaping around in a lively Mad Men-esque musical actually creates a unique & powerfully charged atmosphere in the theatre. Naturally, Radcliffe’s first appearance in the play is greeted with a massive roar from the crowd, and the energy in the room only goes up from there.

The play follows Radcliffe’s character, J. Pierrepoint Finch, as he reads from the self-help book (dryly voice-overed by Anderson Cooper) that gives the play its title, and attempts to carry out its lessons in how to make it in the tough world of Wall Street. It’s a funny, smart play, with the lyrics by Loesser and the book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert full of sly one-liners, quick banter, and still-sharp observations. It marries the whip-smart back and forth of old Hollywood movies to huge-chorused Broadway numbers, and it does it with a frankly excessive amount of charm to which it’s impossible not to succumb.

The dialogue, songs, actors and sets are constantly on the move in this highly kinetic production that never slows down, building to a finale in which Radcliffe runs, flips, dances and hurls himself throughout a number that keeps increasing its momentum, and causes the crowd to cheer and applaud numerous times before it all finally comes to a close.

Image courtesy of http://www.derekmclane.org

The original 1961 production was itself an adaptation of Shepherd Mead’s 1952 novel. Although the novel was already a comic work, the stage adaptation, produced by the team behind Guys And Dolls, upped the satirical and romantic angles, and brought in the legendary Bob Fosse to choreograph the dance sequences. The play has been revived many times since, recently in 1995 with Matthew Broderick in the starring role, and even in 1996 with former Karate Kid Ralph Macchio taking the lead. However, from a cultural perspective, director and choreographer Rob Ashford’s current revival may be the most fascinating of all. It has an edge over all other versions in that it comes after Matthew Weiner’s era-defining TV drama Mad Men changed the way we look at the New York office life in the 50s and 60s. It also exists in a post-Office Space/The Office world. All this adds extra layers of meaning and resonance. The current revival takes this proto-Mad Men world and fuses it with Derek McLane’s coolly-lit, elegantly retro-futuristic set designs, which come across as though Apple designed the interiors of the USS Enterprise of the original Star Trek series. The choreogaphy is wild and energetic as the actors hurtle around McLane’s beautiful-looking, imaginative multi-leveled sets, and the dance numbers are huge and deceptively complex. Added to that are the venerable, twinkling presence of  John Laroquette as big boss J.B. Biggley, and the undeniable star wattage of Radcliffe, their easy and occasionally improvised camaraderie ably supported by an excellent, charismatic cast of Broadway and TV regulars.

With this new production, Ashford has curated a heady, unique mix of past and future, of Hollywood and stage, which has an extraordinary energy as the cultural influences interact and become something far more than the sum of their parts. It’s both thoroughly entertaining, and, with this cast, it’s also an utterly unique cultural moment in time.

set the controls for the heart of the sun

British space-rockers Muse have always been intergalactic.

They tend towards the epic. Their latest tour is no exception. Currently playing in arenas in the US (as opposed to their usual stadiums elsewhere in the world), they are in the ascendant here, expanding beyond the confines of the space into undiscovered dimensions. The show is like a million brilliantly-lit synapses firing simultaneously, Pink Floyd on acid, fast-forwarded into a monumental version of 2001:A Space Odyssey (their stage set has monoliths and is full of stars, and spending two hours watching it is like traveling through the star gate, over and over again), digitally spliced into an enhanced, particularly psychedelic version of the original Star Trek series, remixed into the atmospherically heavy, majestic and futuristic landscapes of Blade Runner, and with all the paranoia of the best sci-fi, and all the beauty – as Exogenesis: Symphony Part I plays out, digital imagery overloads our sensory capabilities to behold it as we see starry visions, endless space, poetic IMAX-level visuals like the more out-there scenes from Avatar, only more so.

And that’s just one song.

They play many more over the two hour show, and, having learned well from their stint supporting U2 on their 360 stadium tour last year, Muse work the stage, in the round, allowing fans on all sides to watch Matt Bellamy coax howls and whispers, screams and tears, roars and huge, monster crunching from his guitar as he croons and soars, playing furiously, with molten metal fluidity. The band is extraordinarily locked together, and they lay down crushing grooves as though several Led Zeppelins were on stage with a few Metallicas and Slayers; only Muse make it look effortless. They blend metal, indie-rock, orchestral majesty, virtuoso piano like Chopin. Imagine a supergroup comprised of Joe Satriani, James Hetfield, Thom Yorke, Jeff Buckley, a bevy of conspiracy theorists, an alien and Debussy, and you might get close to understanding the truly unearthly being that is singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy. The other two are peerless: Dominic Howard sounds like an army of drummers and delivers a brutal, monumental barrage of monstrous, relentless proportions, while Chris Wolstenholme transforms his bass from the super-charged engine of the Muse spaceship  into a fifties B-movie monster prowling menacing and vast through the future cityscapes created by Matt and Dominic, thrashing around, pounding at impossible speeds, rising up to loom over the whole.

The Muse experience is an insane, mind-dazzling rush delivered with absolute control, precision and power. They are becoming themselves in the US at last: powered by the triple engine of the Twilight soundtrack connection, the U2 support gig last year, and the release of what might be their best album yet in The Resistance, a slinky, hard-rocking, melancholy and space-operatic masterpiece with no inhibitions: the most perfect blend yet of the old-fashioned romance, paranoia, beauty and gazing into the far reaches of the universe that typifies Muse.