What everyone wants to know is, can Daniel Radcliffe, a.k.a. Harry Potter, sing, dance and carry a Broadway musical. And the answer is, yes. Despite a lack of musical-theater experience, Radcliffe gives an utterly winning performance in the role that launched Robert Morse's career (in 1961) and made a song-and-dance man out of Matthew Broderick (in the 1995 revival).
The even better news is that this revival of the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, is a delight from start to finish. Radcliffe's star turn anchors the production, but it's Ashford's high-energy staging that makes the 50-year-old show (with music & lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert) vibrant and dynamic.
Ashford's choreography is always inventive, especially in ensemble numbers like "Coffee Break" and "Grand Old Ivy." Radcliffe sings the lovely tune "I Believe in You" with a sweet, sincere tenor. It's a nice voice, but hardly the strongest to grace a Broadway stage, so Ashford and music director/arranger David Chase wisely have the rest of the company add volume and harmony whenever possible.
Just 21, Radcliffe is young for the part of J. Pierrepont Finch, but the role fits him quite well. Fresh-faced Finch starts out at the World-Wide Wicked Company as a lowly window washer. With help from the self-help book How to Succeed in Business, narrated by none other than Anderson Cooper, Finch ass-kisses his way to the top of the corporation. He charms CEO J.B. Biggley (a well-cast John Larroquette, who towers over the height-challenged Radcliffe) and Biggley's assistant Miss Jones (Ellen Harvey, who shines in the crowd-pleasing "Brotherhood of Man"). Finch finds time to romance secretary Rosemary Pillkington (a suitably demure Rose Hemingway). And he effortlessly elbows aside rival Bud Frump (Christopher J. Hanke), the self-described "no-good backbiting fink" whose aunt is married to Biggley. The part isn't much of a stretch from the spoiled preppy Hanke played in Cry-Baby, but the actor makes the most of it. Tammy Blanchard also earns laughs as Hedy La Rue, a cigarette girl turned secretary and paramour of Biggley.
Catherine's Zuber's pastel-shaded costumes exude 60s flair, making the vintage duds on Mad Men look positively drab. Derek McLane's multilevel Technicolor set is even brighter. The set is so big – with elements frequently moving on and off stage – that it threatens to overshadow the cast.
Fortunately, Radcliffe always holds our attention, and his fellow singers and dancers offer expert support. Radcliffe, who showed off his acting chops in the 2009 Broadway production of Equus, worked hard to become an accomplished musical-comedy performer. To his credit, like Finch, he succeeds.