Last seen on Broadway in the buff and committing unspeakable crimes against horses, Daniel Radcliffe follows the ponderous “Equus” with a chipper song-and-dance performance in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”
The actor known as Harry Potter plays that cunning corporate ladder-climber J. Pierrepont Finch in Rob Ashford’s high-octane, hard-working revival. Radcliffe doesn’t catch fire until late in the second act of Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows’s delectable satire of Big Business, ‘50s-style. But there’s more than enough to divert the eye and ear along the way.
Start with Derek McLane’s brilliantly simple sets, panels of honeycomb cells in the International style (think Met Life building) caressingly lit by Howell Binkley to frame the busy bees of World Wide Widget. That’s where Finch, a window washer with a plan, will make his mark.
Guided by the book that gives the show its title (narrated in the recorded voice of CNN’s Anderson Cooper), Finch converts a chance hallway encounter with company president J.B. Biggley (TV star John Larroquette) into a mailroom job. Ponty, as he’s nicknamed, has an uncanny ability to turn serendipity into something like manifest destiny.
On his stunningly fast rise, he outwits Biggley’s dim nephew, Bud Frump (the excellent Christopher J. Hanke); captures the heart of secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Rose Hemingway, looking like Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”) and even catches the eye of Biggley’s brainless man-eating mistress Hedy La Rue (swivel-hipped Tammy Blanchard). Each rite of passage inspires another quintessential Loesser song and accompanying dance number.
From the mock-scary “Coffee Break” to the mock-inspirational “Brotherhood of Man,” this is one of Broadway’s brightest scores. Doug Besterman’s lush, swinging orchestrations bring them to life in a way rarely heard in these days of underpowered, electronically enhanced pit bands.
Ashford’s dances are sexier here than in last season’s “Promises, Promises” revival. Maybe it’s because the material is so much richer, or because Catherine Zuber’s costumes -- leg-revealing Easter-egg pastels for the girls, skinny everything for the guys -- throw off so much heat from the stage. Whatever the case, the limbs flinging and flying about the stage of the Hirschfeld Theatre are heart-quickening. It’s some of the hottest dancing in town.
Hemingway is competent, if somewhat shrill as Rosemary and Blanchard is pretty charmless as sexpot Hedy. Larroquette is appealingly dapper and at ease as the big cheese, though it’s mighty fortunate that Biggley doesn’t have to sing much.
As for the appealing Radcliffe, he’s eager to please but lacks a certain urgency that makes Finch dangerous and irresistible at the same time. He’s no singer (“I Believe in You,” the show’s best-known song, barely makes an impression) and not much of a dancer. Still, he does both more than respectably in the rousing “Brotherhood of Man” finale, which sends us home in a forgiving mood.
At the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com Rating: **1/2
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(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)