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American Musicals
Work Theater

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)

"A sassy, gay, and exhilarating evening...A bland and caustic kidding of the American success story goes on all evening, without ever losing its frosty and lunatic attitude."
- Walter Kerr, Herald Tribune

In 1955, when Shepherd Mead's book "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" became a huge success, playwright Willie Gilbert and neurosurgeon Jack Weinstock created a dramatic adaptation. But the play remained unproduced until 1960, when theatrical agent Abe Newborn brought it to the attention of producers, Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin, who thought it could work as a Broadway musical. Feuer and Martin had had a huge success with "Guys and Dolls" in 1950 and asked the authors of that show, bookwriter Abe Burrows and composer/lyricist Frank Loesser, to write the adaptation. Rehearsals began in August, 1961, with Abe Burrows directing and Frank Loesser co-producing.

Robert Morse was cast as Finch, the ambitious window washer, with Charles Nelson Reilly as Bud Frump (the boss's equally ambitious nephew), Bonnie Scott as Rosemary (a secretary with her sites on Finch), and 1930s recording star Rudy Vallee as J.B. Biggley (the stuffy philandering company president). Choreography was credited to both Hugh Lambert and Bob Fosse, although Lambert's contribution was reportedly minimal.

The show opened on October 14, 1961, running for 1,417 performances, winning multiple Tony Awards (including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Director of a Musical, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Supporting Actor in a Musical, and Best Musical Director), a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama - only the fourth awarded to a musical. A London production followed, starring Warren Berlinger and Billy De Wolfe, resulting in a second cast album. A film version was produced by United Artists in 1967 with Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee recreating their Broadway roles.


Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book; Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Drama Critics Circle Award

Short Synopsis:

With the help of an instructional guide, J. Pierrepont Finch is determined to succeed in business - without really trying. Encountering a corporate bigwig, a romantically-inclined secretary, a wily competitor, and a sexy ex-cigarette girl with ambitions of her own, the intrepid Finch dodges, parries and plans until victory is his. "How to Succeed..." is a comic masterpiece of satire and song, a loving and laughing tribute to the ambitious window washer in all of us.

"The definitive musical about high life in the city... perfect musical comedy construction, swift, sharp, jam-packed with characters and incident and clear-headed as it moves unerringly through an interesting and funny story. Loesser is the perfect man for his end of the show - the songs; for he is a cynic without being tough. He has not put in a note of music or a syllable of lyric that doesn't carry the story along."
- John Chapman, Daily News
"A brilliant musical comedy in which everything works out. In its first performance at the 46th St. Theater Saturday night, its satire, humor, book, music, lyrics, cast, staging, choreography, setting and general gaiety of spirit combined in a smooth, fast pattern of expert showmanship to make the occasion a delightful event."
- Richard Watts, Jr., New York Post
"It stings mischievously and laughs uproariously...It belongs to the blue chips among modern musicals. Let Wall Street and Madison Avenue tremble as the rest of us rejoice. Imagine a combination of Horatio Alger and Machiavelli"
- Howard Taubman, The New York Times
"The most inventive and stylized and altogether infectious new musical in recent recollection...The score by Mr. Loesser is not great by 'pop' standards; it is better than that. All the music has been integrated into the plot, to fit the mood as well as the momentum. His lyrics are generally superb; thoughtful, witty, and often hilarious."
- John McClain, Journal-American


Brotherhood of Man (1961)
Cinderella, Darling (1961)
Coffee Break (1961)
Company Way, The (1961)
Grand Old Ivy (1961)
Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm (1961)
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961)
I Believe in You (1961)
Love From a Heart of Gold (1961)
Paris Original (1961)
Rosemary (1961)
Secretary is Not a Toy, A (1961)

On Sale:

[cd] How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying: The New Broadway Cast Recording
[cd] How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961 Original Broadway Cast)
[books] Complete Lyrics of Frank Loesser, The (Hardcover)
[sheetmusic] Frank Loesser Songbook, The (Paperback)
[video] How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) (VHS)
[video] How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) (VHS Widescreen Edition)
[video] How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1967) (DVD)