a theatre, film & pop culture review
There’s been a lot of to-do over the announcement that Daniel Radcliffe will be hoofing it over to the Great White Way for in a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying set for next season. (This focus is somewhat surprising consider that the same day saw plans for a musical Dances with Wolves announced. Please picture a Kevin Costner-type actually dancing with wolves. Best. Visual. Ever.)
It could be titled How to Get Cast in a Broadway Musical Without Really Trying since Radcliffe has only one theatre credit to his name. Equus, which tells the true tale of an English lad who inexplicably attacks and blinds six horses, and which Radcliffe starred in doesn’t exactly scream musical comedy talent. In my own review of the London production of that Peter Schaffer psychodrama, I declared Radcliffe “an inexperienced teen who has yet to fully develop his acting talent.” His performance was “passable,” and I was underwhelmed. When I read the playbill announcement of his musical casting, my entire body twitched violently. I reflected in horror: a screaming Katie Holmes ruining classic Arthur Miller. Shrill Lauren Graham struggling to sing-speak-dance her way through “A Bushel and a Peck.” A painfully dull Jena Malone stumbling through Mourning Becomes Electra.I wanted to punch, hard, the dim-witted casting director who decided to put another ill-equipped film actor on stage.
And then I actually thought about it.
And now I’m going to defend Harry Potter’s casting in How to Succeed as quite possibly inspired, and here’s why:
1) How to Succeed is musical comedy gold. They don’t get any better than this: A 1960s gem boasting a crazy-witty book by Abe Burrows and the buoyant brilliance of Frank Loesser’s score (in my opinion, his best). Hell, it even won the Pulitzer (not that that really means anything, as proven by this year’s winner). Radcliffe’s never been in an out-and-out comedy, but funny-guy J. Pierrepont Finch doesn’t earn laughs through hoodwinking buffoonery or silly slapstick; he’s a crafty conman who stealthily charms his way up the corporate ladder. While the Harry Potter series demonstrated a young Radcliffe’s easy ability to charm through sweet innocence, Daniel’s since become a strikingly handsome guy whose quiet effortlessness could give Finch a mysterious edge to his cockiness (not unlike Matthew Broderick in the 1995 revival). While Finch is a pretty heavy singing role, it’s mid-range and not difficult, so while I have no idea of Radcliffe’s vocal training if any, as long as he can carry a tune, all else will be solved by reason #2…
Hammy Robert Morse reprises his role as Finch in the 1967 film (he originated the Broadway production in ’61)
2) Rob Ashford is directing. Choreographer-cum-director, Ashford is currently in the midst of his Broadway debut as director with Promises Promises, but he’s already demonstrated his mastery of the musical form as choreographer for movement-minded musicals like Thoroughly Modern Millie, Curtains, and Cry-Baby (you laugh, but did you see that jail-house number on the Tonys? Ridiculously brilliant.) Not to mention his exquisite re-conceptualization and direction of the once-troubled Parade at London’s Donmar Warehouse (Hal Prince, eat your heart out. Read more about Ashford’s production here). Based on that production alone — which also boasted a lead played by an actor with no musical credits to his name — Ashford is more than capable of bolstering an actor’s strengths while maintaining the integrity of the artistic work and making it his own.
3) Corbin Bleu. Anne Hathaway. Sienna Miller. Norbert Leo Butz.
From screen to stage, Bleu flawlessly transferred his musical charms. The quirky Hathaway startled with her sensitive interpretation of Shakespeare in the Park. Model-actress Sienna miller smoldered in Strindberg (no lie). And Norbert Leo Butz, a classically trained actor lacking any kind of vocal training, is most widely known for his musical roles. I’d say Radcliffe’s got a decent chance of graduating to this group.
So stop your chortling, your bitching and your moaning, and give the Potter a chance; he may surprise you. That is, if this revival doesn’t go the way of ill-fated-Rob-Ashford-set-to-helm Brigadoon. Or the Gavin Creel and Diana DeGarmo-starring Godspell. Or the drama-filled 2005 production of Sweet Charity. Or the abruptly cancelled Megan-Mullally-drama of Lips Together, Teeth Apart.
Let’s face it: this thing’s probably not going to happen anyway.
But boy oh boy, I sure hope it does.