Sunday, April 03, 2011

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Photo: Ari Mintz

Star power comes in two varieties. In the first, a person is born with enough charisma to mesmerize everyone in the vicinity. Hugh Jackman flirted with a thousand people a night, individually, in The Boy From Oz. Ann Reinking glowed in the chorus in Pippin, even when the audience was supposed to be looking elsewhere. Christine Baranski seems to carry a personal spotlight wherever she goes.

In the other form of star power, the performer brings fame and its attendant glories from a completely different arena. Theatre is full of examples, some of whom were actually good, some of whom weren't: Julie Roberts, Hammer, Melanie Griffith, Ashley Judd, Katie Holmes, George Hamilton. Some turn out to be true theatre people, Neil Patrick Harris being a prime example.

Daniel Radcliffe falls into the second category, subcategory "true theatre person." He has brought his huge, enthusiastic audience with him to the theatre, and he has worked his butt off to be the best performer he can be. His choices of roles are interesting and varied (from Equus to How to Succeed is quite a journey!), and he clearly cares.

Unfortunately, however, he is low on star power, category one. If you're not already a fan, he comes across as an amiable, not-too-bad performer. He is cute, and he uses that well. When his J. Pierrepont Finch grins at his series of triumphs, it's a cute grin. But without his Harry Potter juice, there would be no reason to cast him in a singing-and-dancing role requiring tons of charisma and personality.

However, he does have that Harry Potter juice, and the audience was thrilled by his every move, while muggle-me sat there unimpressed and unmoved (with the exception of the "Brotherhood of Man" finale, in which he finally showed some oomph). However, God bless him. He's bringing in young audiences, and I respect his commitment and hard work.

What about the rest of the show? This production is like a drum machine--lots of energy but little humanity. The scenery is aggressively ugly. As the head of the company where Finch works, John Larroquette does his John Larroquette thing, which is quite effective if you like him (I do). A handful of other cast members rise above a general blandness, including Michael Park, Rob Bartlett, and Ellen Harvey. The romantic female lead, Rose Hemingway, is unimpressive.

And then there is (drum roll, trumpets) Tammy Blanchard (see star power, definition one). As she has shown on stage and on TV and in movies, she has it. No, she has IT. Simply walking onstage, she brings a blast of energy, excitement, and three-dimensionality. Her performance as the not-so-dumb dumb mistress is wry and sexy, and her decision to never quite stand still, like a thoroughbred waiting to race, brings a palpable reality to her silly character.

I wonder if Blanchard can bottle whatever it is she has. She'd make a fortune.

(Press ticket, row P, center. Many thanks to How to Succeed and the Hartman Group for including the blogosphere.)

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