The Ithaca College Triple Threat Theatre company will kick off its 2007–08 season tomorrow with a production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!,” a 1961 musical that won seven Tony Awards and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The play follows the tumultuous, showtune-infused career of J. Pierrepont Finch, a window washer with aspirations for corporate glory. With the help of a handy manual titled “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!,” Finch scales the slippery and comically cutthroat rungs of the 1960s business ladder, eventually becoming chairman of the board at the World Wide Wicket Company.
Sophomore drama and television-radio double major Adam Berley is playing Finch. He said the story follows a pretty simple structure, but it is still clever and always entertaining for the audience.
“Basically, throughout the show he just reads the chapters in the book that tell him how to get ahead and sort of outwits everyone in the office,” Berley said. “[He] charms his way to the top.”
Finch’s success, though swift, is by no means free of complications. In addition to constantly competing with rival associate Bud Frump, the nephew of Finch’s boss Jasper Biggley, Finch must balance his ambitions with a newly kindled love for his secretary Rosemary Pilkington — a task that often proves trying.
“He gets wrapped up in getting himself all the way to the top,” Berley said. “He’s very determined about his job, and then [with] any female-related endeavors like relationships … he’s just the slightest bit awkward.”
Berley, who played the lovably neurotic Hysterium in last year’s Triple Threat Theatre production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” is one of only a few of the group’s veterans returning for this production. In fact, for much of the cast, tomorrow’s performance will mark their first opportunity to step under a new set of lights. Hannah Wenzel, a freshman acting major playing Rosemary, is ready to flex her thespian muscle in a new arena, though she admits that the inaugural college performance can be a little nerve-wracking.
“There’s a lot of talented people, and it’s different coming from high school,” she said. “But it’s been really rewarding because I constantly feel challenged. I never rest on my laurels.”
Junior Jefferson McDonald, who plays Jasper Biggley, is equally excited to perform. For McDonald, his first role at the college has been a vessel for acclimation.
“We’ve become a brotherhood ourselves, just working through it,” he said. “If we could communicate that idea of brotherhood and have people snapping their fingers along the way, that would be my goal and also the cast’s goal.”
The show’s directing duties fall into the seasoned hands of senior acting major Jeff Crosley. Crosley, whose experience with productions at the college includes roles in “Company” and “Etta Jenks,” said the production’s authenticity hinges on an adherence to 1960s attitudes.
“We’ve been able to keep most of it the same because it still works and it’s still funny,” he said. “To try to set the thing in today would have just looked ridiculously anachronous.”
While it’s clear at rehearsal that Crosley expects near-perfection from his actors — his dramatic, energetic style of direction can at times be reminiscent of a flustered parent — their willingness to trust his decisions is equally evident. And though he takes his role as director very seriously, Crosley is quick to emphasize the musical’s inherent playfulness.
“What we’re going for with the show is not really anything particularly instructive or dramatically ponderous for the audience,” he said. “It’s just a very fast, fun, funny show.”
Performances will be held at 8 p.m. today through Sunday in Presser Hall in the James J. Whalen School of Music. Tickets are $5.