Broadway star, TV personality and ’Berg alum
Frankie Grande stars in musical lampoon
of 20th century American corporate life
Big business means big laughs in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre’s delightful sendup of corporate life playing in Muhlenberg’s Baker Theatre, July 11-29.
“How to Succeed… defines musical comedy, and the cast is full of inspired comedians committed to landing the jokes” says director Charles Richter. “It’s going to be spectacularly funny and entertaining for all audiences.”
How to Succeed… is the story of a young window-washer named J. Pierrepont Finch, played by Broadway star, TV personality, and Muhlenberg alum Frankie Grande. With a whole lot of charisma and some dumb luck, Finch rises through the ranks of his company until he accidentally-on-purpose becomes a powerful business executive.
“He succeeds in spite of the fact that he has no experience or qualifications,” Richter says. “That sort of gives us a retro look at what corporate culture was like.”
“I think Finch is so amazingly complicated,” Grande says. “There’s this incredible sense of balance between being naive and being ruthless. He walks this line that’s very fun to play. I’m having a blast discovering who this character is.”
Grande is known for his performances in Rock of Ages and Mamma Mia! on Broadway, as well as for his stint on reality TV series “Big Brother” in 2014. He was last seen at Muhlenberg in the 2013 MSMT production of Crazy for You.
“Frankie is an extraordinary comic with an incredible voice and dance ability,” Richter says. “We’re having a great time making this play come to life in a dynamic, entertaining, and hysterically funny way.”
“I come back to the college because I love Muhlenberg, and because I believe the theatre program is one of the strongest in the country,” he says. “This cast is incredible, and being with Charlie and Karen is like home. It’s so nice to be working all together again.”
Muhlenberg dance program director and founder Karen Dearborn choreographs the production, which features musical direction by Bryan L. Wade, scenic design by John Raley, costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski, and lighting design by Gertjan Houben.
Several other Muhlenberg alumni have made the trip back to their alma mater to be a part of the production, including Aran Abilock Clemmons ’17, Meredith Doyle ’16, Zach Love ’16, and Samantha Simon ’15. Also joining the cast, MSMT mainstay Neil Hever ’82, a veteran of the first-ever MSMT production — and many since.
“The cast is a wonderful mix of Muhlenberg students, alums, and celebrated regional actors,” Richter says.
Doyle, who plays Finch’s love interest and secretary Rosemary Pilkington, will be familiar to SMT audiences as last summer’s Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.” Zach Love, last summer’s Colonel Pickering, plays zany villain Bud Frump.
“I haven’t played a villain in a long time, and never at Muhlenberg, so this has been a lot of fun,” Love says. “You’ll see a lot of familiar faces in this show, but the characters we’re playing couldn’t be more different from ones we’ve played before.”
“Hedy LaRue has been one of my dream roles since I was 17,” says Simon, who spends most of the year working at Walt Disney World. “When I got the call, I was like, I will do it now. I don’t care what work says. Charlie is the only person I’d come back up North for.”
“It feels a little bit like summer camp in the best way,” says Abilock Clemmons. “You get to come back and do what you enjoy with your friends. Muhlenberg is kind of a home for me where I’m welcomed back. It’s a nice community.”
Abilock Clemmons says he hopes audiences will get a kick out of the show’s satire.
“I hope people leave thinking about the gender construct of it all,” he says. “I hope they’re able to laugh, but also think about how arbitrary these old-fashioned gender roles were.”
“Frank Loesser wrote the incredible score,” Richter says. “His first big success was Guys and Dolls, which celebrated the American dream: three kids, a nice house, a good job. How to Succeed… is much more ironic about it. It’s sort of prescient — it was written at the beginning of the ’60s, and, by the end of the ’60s, that whole value system had already started to deteriorate.”
Winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, How to Succeed… is celebrated for its hilarious book (co-written by comedy legend Abe Burrows), clever lyrics, and memorable ensemble numbers — including second act showstopper “Brotherhood of Man.”
“That number is already the best thing I’ve ever done,” Grande says. ”It’s gonna be really big. It’s gonna be fierce.”
“I hope the audience laughs a lot,” Richter says. “I hope they’re ravished by Frank Loesser’s magnificent score, and I hope they will have gotten a great deal of pleasure from this jaundiced view of American life and values.”
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying plays July 11-29. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the first four shows are $35 regular admission. Senior tickets are $31, student tickets (ages 19-22) are $20, and youth tickets (18 and under) are $17. For the rest of the run, regular tickets are $41, senior tickets are $37, student tickets are $24, and youth tickets are $21. Groups of 15+ are $25 per person, $16 for students and youth.
Tickets can be purchased online at muhlenberg.edu/smt or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in Baker Theatre in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, PA., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.