Women’s lib had not yet come to the fore back when Succeed was a shiny new addition to the Great White Way, and the majority of the female population was happy to let men rule the roost both at work and at home. With songs like “Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm” and “A Secretary Is Not a Toy," Succeed deftly illustrates how women “knew their place” and men were happy to keep them there.
Dated as its sensibilities may be, the show has legs. Since its 1961 Broadway debut, which starred, ironically, Mad Men's Robert Morse, two Broadway revivals have been staged: the first in 1995 featuring Matthew Broderick as the crafty protagonist J. Pierrepont Finch, and the most recent in 2011 with Daniel Radcliffe in the lead.
I saw the show in 1964 when I was eight years old and, even at that tender age, was smitten with Robert Morse. He was probably my first crush: an adorable, funny, charming and exuberant lead. It’s no wonder he won the Tony for the role.
To be fair, I can’t speak much for Radcliffe’s portrayal of Finch, since I’ve only seen his performance on the Tony awards broadcast. However, his energetic turn in the “Brotherhood of Man” number was impressive. On the 2011 cast recording, there is a wide-eyed, gee-whiz-ness to his performance, and a certain girlish quality to his warbling, but he is a youthful Finch. Morse and Broderick were in their thirties when they played the role, over ten years older than Radcliffe is now. Radcliffe can be cut some slack for that, although it was surely more his star power than song and dance prowess that got him this plum lead.
The new Broadway cast recording is not simply a rehash of what went before. It is a tribute to the music of the era. Utilizing a streamlined 14-piece orchestra, sans strings, the music is more jazzy than symphonic. Listen close and you’ll hear stylistic shadings of Esquivel, Henry Mancini, Martin Denny, and even the clattery cacophony of George Jetson’s Spacely Sprockets in the mix. Music director David Chase and orchestrator Doug Besterman have done their homework well.
If you’ve never seen How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, check out the film to watch Robert Morse reprise his Broadway role. After that give a listen to the new cast recording and experience the best of both worlds from a show that has stood the test of time.