Friday, August 10, 2012

how to succeed in birthday presents

We're back from Mythcon, and have in fact been back for several days, but a combination of trying to get my sleep back and trying to get over the overwhelmingness of it all have prevented posting about it - so far. Meanwhile, it's been B's birthday, and I finally succeeded in baking a sugar-free chocolate cake (sweetened with maltitol, which is a sugar alcohol, and sugar alcohols don't count, resulting in a net carb count about one-third that of your ordinary cake), and for a birthday present I was sure she'd enjoy but that wouldn't take up any space on our overcrowded shelves, we attended a performance by a fine local musical theatre of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. It's on for the rest of this weekend, so locals can still see it.

The work with perhaps the Least Likely to Succeed Title in the history of successful musicals, this 1961 show with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser has been considered problematic in recent decades because of its supposedly crude depiction of sexism in the 1961 workplace. In fact, though, even the titles of songs like "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm" and "A Secretary Is Not A Toy" show at least an ironic awareness of the difficulties women faced, and the increasing distance of time and the popularity of retro depictions like Mad Men (insert obligatory note here that Robert Morse, the senior partner in Mad Men, was the original Finch, the ladder-climbing protagonist of How to Succeed) have helped turn How to Succeed into a period piece, which is how it's been played recently.

Musically it's cherishable, and I think it's Loesser's best show, at least equal in quality to Guys and Dolls and far better than The Most Happy Fella, a show whose appeal somewhat eludes me. I like a musical with tunes I can actually remember, and here are links to recordings, from the recent Broadway production with Daniel Radcliffe, of my two favorite songs from the show to prove it, "The Company Way" and "Brotherhood of Man".

To do this show properly requires a large cast, and this production had no problem filling all the roles adequately, featuring a Finch who looked like a cross between Ed Harris and Paul Rubens; an ingenue Rosemary (the heroine) resembling a tall Mary Tyler Moore; an excellent Smitty (heroine's best friend) who entirely avoided the grating; a Bud Frump (the antagonist) very much channeling Charles Nelson Reilly, who originated the part; and, for Mr Biggley (the company president), a big walrusy guy who in offstage life is a children's librarian known as Walter the Giant Storyteller.

But however good they and the other cast members were, the real stars of the show were the vividly sharp period costumes and the staging and choreography, which were consistently engaging and imaginative. I particularly liked the staging of "Been A Long Day", which was set inside an increasingly crowded elevator, its door in the back of the set, the other three walls invisible, the singers facing backwards (i.e. towards the audience) while the other riders faced forwards (i.e. showing us their backs), other cast members unobtrusively hoisting Smitty up so that she could peer over Finch and Rosemary's shoulders while commenting on their relationship.

Anyway, good show, marred only by the amazing amount of construction detritus currently going on at the Foothill campus, and preceded by a stop in downtown Los Altos for a quite satisfactory dinner at Bella Vita (I had a pasta alla pescatore with more fish than shellfish and only one piece of calamari in the whole dish) and a visit to Linden Tree, still the only children's bookshop I know in the US with a sizable stock of Enid Blyton, an author usually unknown over here. Many other selections of authors both old and new were good, but I have to wonder at the presence of only the new authorized sequel to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and not the original, and at a Tolkien shelf containing only The Book of Lost Tales and The Return of the King. What?

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