Out & About: Lyric Music Theater succeeds with 'How to Succeed …'

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Nothing succeeds like success. That time-tested adage certainly rings true in South Portland right now with Lyric Music Theater’s midwinter offering.

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Frank Loesser’s 1961 Broadway musical that copped seven Tony Awards plus the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, gets a sterling community production that runs two more weekends.

The 330th anniversary of the birth of German classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach will be celebrated this weekend, when the Oratorio Chorale and the Maine Chamber Music Ensemble team up for two performances of a program titled “Magnificat: The Best of Bach” in Portland and Brunswick,

Stephane Wrembel, a French-born, American-educated exponent of “Gypsy jazz,” will visit Portland this Friday.

‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’

Ambition, greed, power and lust: It’s just a typical day at the office in the Broadway musical that opened last weekend and runs two more weekends at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland.

The show is “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” which was the sensational hit of the 1961-1962 Broadway season. In addition to its long run of more than 1,400 performances between 1961 and 1965, “How to Succeed …” copped seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. It also won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, one of the rare instances where a musical has been so honored.

“How to Succeed” has been revived twice on Broadway, both times snagging an additional Tony.

The musical is based on Shepherd Mead’s best-selling book of the same name, which was published in 1952. It was adapted to the stage by Abe Burrows (who also directed the original production), Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert. Music and lyrics were penned by Frank Loesser.

“How to Succeed …” is a light-hearted spoof of big business and corporate culture. The story line revolves around J. Pierpont Finch, a likable young man of overweening ambition who rises from window washer to the mailroom and finally to chairman of the board of World Wide Wickets.

Along his road to the top, Finch competes with the lazy, incompetent nephew of the president, then deals with the president himself and his posse of high-level executives, who represent a broad cross section of incompetence, greed and lust.

Also along the road to the top, Finch catches the eye of a lovely secretary who instantly falls in love with him. Plus there’s the president’s mistress, a curvaceous blond bimbo who catches the eye of every other male in the company.

Some of the musical numbers are particular interesting, such as “The Company Way,” a paean to the corporate culture from the point of view of an underling, and “A Secretary is not a Toy,” which is also an energetic dance number. “I Believe in You” is a lyric tribute to ambition, while “Grand Old Ivy” is a tuneful college fight song.

(An aside: In the original Broadway production, the latter song was performed by Rudy Vallee, who grew up in Westbrook in the years before World War I. With the advent of radio music in the 1920s, Vallee became the first teenage singing idol and later became a Hollywood star. Vallee’s featured role as the bumbling, lusting chief executive of World Wide Wickets was the capstone of his later career.)

I loved Lyric’s inspired community production, directed by Don Smith. The cast is led by Tommy Waltz, playing Finch, the ambitious young man. Waltz seems to truly inhabit this chameleon-like character. Three wonderful comic gems stand out. Zach Handlen plays Finch’s nemesis, a jealous backbiting rival who is outmaneuvered at every turn. John Schrank nicely portrays the old, philandering president, while Kim Drisko is wonderful as his scatterbrained paramour. Rachel Henry nicely plays Finch’s lovely romantic interest.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” through March 7 with 8 p.m. performances Thursday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Oratorio Chorale

At the end of March the musical world will observe the 330th anniversary of the birth of the man that many regard as history’s greatest classical composer: Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Oratorio Chorale will observe the anniversary a few weeks early this weekend with two performances of an all-Bach program titled “Magnificat: The Best of Bach.” Music director Emily Isaacson’s selections will encompass a broad range of the composer’s styles, formats and settings.

The Chorale, comprising approximately 50 auditioned singers, is now in its 41st season, and the second under Isaacson’s direction.

The Chorale will be joined by several instrumentalists of the Maine Chamber Ensemble. “Magnificat: The Best of Bach” will feature some of the composer’s most beloved music. Major choral works include “Magnificat,” a setting for voices and small orchestra that is one of Bach’s most popular and enduring works.

Other vocal pieces include “Lobet den Herrn,” “Komm, Jesu, Komm” plus solo arias from three cantatas.

Instrumental music will include the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 featuring violinist Dean Stein and harpsichordist John Corrie. Robert Lehman and Yasmin Vitalius will solo in Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.

Vocal soloists for the “Best of Bach” include soprano Sonja DuToit Tengblad, alto Emily Marvosh, tenor Stefan Reed and bass Bradford Gleim. All are professional singers who are prominent in the greater Boston area.

Two performances are slated: Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, 143 State St., Portland, and March 1 at 2 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Church, 39 Pleasant St., Brunswick. Call 577-3931.

Stephane Wrembel

“Gypsy jazz” performer and composer Stephane Wrembel was born in France but finished his education at Boston’s Berklee School. His specialty is recreating the guitar stylings of Django Reinhardt, the seminal figure in French Gypsy jazz between the 1920s and 1950s. Plus Wrembel adds some significant twists of his own.

Since 2001 Wrembel has released seven CDs plus an instructional book for aspiring guitarists. His most recent CD was released last September, and Wrembel is currently touring in support of the album.

Writing for Premier Guitar, music critic Jason Shadrick summarizes his creative approach. “Guitarist Stephane Wrembel … not only pushes the boundaries of what is considered Gypsy jazz, but gathers influences ranging from Greek and North African music to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd into an entrancing, yet accessible style.”

Catch Stephane Wrembel and his band at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. Feb. 27. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” is Frank Loesser’s 1961 Broadway musical that won multiple awards. Lyric Music Theater has a community production that runs through March 7.