The Secret of My Success
At the Paramount Theatre by Dan Zeff
Aurora- The Paramount Theatre is presenting the world premiere adaptation of the 1987 motion picture comedy “The Secret of My Success” and the natural question is, Does this production have a chance for success on Broadway? My answer is an inconclusive, Yes and no. The show is receiving a top of the line Paramount staging, with engaging music, flashy production values, and solid work by an ensemble that includes some of Chicagoland’s best performers. But the book has problems, maybe fatal, maybe not, depending on the viewer’s tolerance for “Are you kidding me?” plotting.
“The Secret of My Success” was a non musical movie best known for starring Michael J. Fox, then in the flush of his acclaimed work in the “Back to the Future” series. The core character in the movie is Brantley Foster (Billy Harrigan Tighe at the Paramount), a young man who leaves his small town Midwestern home to make his fortune in New York City. Brantley is laid off his first job his first in New York City but manages to get a place as a temporary worker in a corporate mail room. Through an accident that repeals the laws of probability, Brantley inadvertently assumes the identity of a rising young executive named Carlton and quickly rises up the corporate latter using Carlton’s identity.
There are whiffs of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “The Apartment” in Brantley’s experiences in the world of corporate greed and venery. To nobody’s surprise the lad ultimately lands high on the company executive pyramid and acquires a bright and appealing young junior executive named Christy Lockhart Sydney Morton) as a love interest. Morton is a diminutive young lady with a very large and expressive voice, enhanced by her acting skills. This is one talented young lady.
The adaptation profits from the appearance of Heidi Kettenring, one of Chicagoland theater’s finest actors, in the role of a best selling author who is grafted onto the plot for no cogent reason, but it does give Kettenring a chance to singing and dance. Chicagoland audiences who have admired Kettenring for her countless superb performances in classic and modern roles will be delighted to see that the lady can really rock. Mahler and Schmuckler have created a quality score performed to a lite rock beat and there is at least one memorable number, a duet (“I Think I Like You”) sung by Kettenring and Morton that deservedly stopped the opening night show. There is also a series of quickie appearances by the estimable Barbara E. Robertson as Brantley’s doting mother. It’s an inconsequential role but any appearance by Robertson adds value to a play or musical.
The book by Steve Rosen and Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) has some satirical and witty lines, most of the wisecracks delivered with droll humor by the Christy Lockhart character. In the ostentatiously feel good finale, the bad guys get their comeuppance as Brantley stands triumphant. Single mother Christy gets Brantley as a husband and a father for her little boy, plus a secure corporate career. As happy endings go, they don’t offer much more stereotype pleasure than that.
But the narrative can’t get around the central premise of the Brantley/Carlton mixup. The plot offers plenty of opportunity for comic confusion but I didn’t believe a moment of any of it. It’s not the fault of Greenberg and Rosen. They inherited the premise from the movie, but it’s still nonsense that the show can’t quite overcome, though the second act was slightly stronger than the first.. I can see Michael J. Fox saving the movie with his unforced charm and charisma (though the film did not get great reviews) but Tighe, even with his fine singing voice and appealing stage presence, can’t elevate the narrative into a tale this viewer could buy into.
There are significant, and well done, supporting performances by Jeremy Peter Johnson as the conniving executive who also hits on the Christy Lockhart character with typical corporate lechery. Gabriel Ruiz carves out a nice performance as Brantley’s fellow worker in the mail room. This blue color character ends up in a gleeful sexual relationship with Kettenring’s classy upscale author, a story twist that boggles the mind. A salute also goes to Kai Edgar, who plays Christy Lockhart’s son with a professionalism that belies his eight years.
The Paramount staging delivers the color and creativity we have come to expect from this major player in area musical theater. The 12-piece pit band directed by Tom Vendrafreddo keeps the Michael Mahler-Alan Schmuckler score vibrant and colorful with its full sound. Jeffrey D. Kmiec has designed a two-level set that takes full advantage of the spacious Paramount playing area. The costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, the lighting by Greg Hofmann, and the sound design by Adam Rosenthal are all top drawer. But I do take exception to the projections by Mike Tutaj that consist primarily of continuous ribbons of stock market quotes that skim throughout the background and foreground. This is not a tale of Wall Street chicanery and the quotations become distracting without contribute anything to the narrative.
Amber Mak’s choreography includes a couple of clever production numbers, but this is show about relationships among a very few major characters, but the large and talented chorus does display its considerable hoofing chops with enthusiasm. Gordon Greenberg’s directing keeps everything moving physically and allows the humor and abundant sentimentality to shine through.
“The Secret of My Success” show isn’t the first musical that has found an audience in spite of insurmountable difficulties with a weak book. The musical may or may not have a future beyond its premiere production but many local viewers won’t care. The strong approval registered by the audience on opening night strongly indicates that there is enough entertainment value on offer to keep Paramount audiences applauding and sometimes cheering through the end of March.
“The Secret of My Success” gets a rating of.
“The Secret of My Success” runs through March 29 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena Boulevard. Performances are Wednesday at 1:30 and 7 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 1 and 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $36 to $74. Call 630 (896)-6666 or visit ParamountAurora.com.