By Barry Reszel
The Secret is out. Paramount’s world premiere musical is indeed a success.
The Secret of My Success, the fun, coming-of-adult-age comedy is best known through the Michael J. Fox 1987 film of the same name. Made while the actor was in the throes of his Alex P. Keaton years on Family Ties, Fox plays a Keaton-esque recent MBA graduate who leaves his Kansas home for New York to begin his new finance job. The musical updates this adventure some, relocating hometown to St. Cloud, MN.
Based on the screenplay from a story by A.J. Carothers, protagonist Brantley Foster arrives in the Big Apple to work for the parent company of his hometown cannery, only to be laid off on before finding his cubicle. But begging his idol, the company’s slimy CEO Piers Johnson for work, Foster is sent to the basement to be temp worker. When, in his first temp duty, he learns of a junior finance analyst beginning paternity leave, Foster does double duty and begins to impact the company, discover love with a co-worker and help unearth some corporate dirty laundry.
With some relatively stock characters and a rather dated plot, this could well be just another ho-hum ’80s movie-made-musical. In fact, while some changes have been made to update, in its next iteration book writers Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen would do well to further bring this story even further into the 21st century. But with powerful anthems and tender ballads by Michael Mahler and Alan Schmuckler (music and lyrics) there’s success here enough.
Slick direction by Gordon Greenberg and athletic choreography by Amber Mak is adorned by a Jeffrey D. Kmiec‘s high-tech, neon set and magnificent costumes by Mara Blumenfeld.
On stage, the very likeable Foster is played by Broadway and West End veteran Billy Harrigan Tighe, making his Paramount debut. Sydney Morton, whose Broadway resume includes Motown, Evita and Memphis, is perfect as Foster’s love interest, Christy Lockhart. Cool, confident, gorgeous and just vulnerable enough at times, Lockhart is arguably the most interesting character in this show. Focusing even more on Lockhart as the instrument of corporate change while being true to her love of family might be the key to making this musical even more relevant. The scenes with her as the lust interest of the stereotypically creepy boss (hello Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5) or working extra hours for the sake of corporate climbing feel dated; those with her as smart, competent, kind and in control feel right. Fortunately, that’s most of the time.
Looking at the songbook, the gorgeous duet ballad “The Ferry Ride,” that does so much to advance all the show’s plot elements, simultaneously shows off the strength and tenderness of the production’s two fine lead actors. It’s too bad the song’s second act reprise was cut on opening night. But “Ferry Ride” is simply a favorite within a delicious, varied songbook with the wit (and sometimes the speed) of Hamilton. Multiple listenings (cast recording, Paramount?) will be required to capture all of the Mahler/Schmuckler genius. Songs like the opening “32 Hour Bus Ride,” “Pull It Off,” “Hidden Value” and the tender “Tie Your Shoes” are but one person’s favorites; each patron will certainly find his/her/their own. They’re all performed by a fabulous group of musicians conducted by Tom Vendafreddo, including Sean McNeely, Steve Leinheiser, Adam Roebuck, Marty Tilton, Mike Joyce, Venafreddo, Celia Villacres, Dave Saenger, Tom Vitacco, Chuck Webb, Tom Hipskind, Brandon Podjasek and the conductor at keyboard one.
And Chicagoland fans will be glad to know the out-of-town leading players are joined by a powerhouse cast including a plethora of local musical theatre favorites. Barbara E. Robertson plays Foster’s Minnesotan mom (note to Brantley: answer the dang phone when she calls; and both of you…learn to text). The CEO’s neglected wife, Vera Prescott, is portrayed by the always-wonderful Heidi Kettenring; Terrific Melody A. Betts plays Lockhart’s mom, Rose; and several of this reviewer’s favorites, Dara Cameron, Brandon Dahlquist, George Keating, Camille Robinson, Alexis J. Roston add to a truly magnificent ensemble of triple threats.
It’s a true compliment to Chicagoland audiences that emerging artists want to first show their works here. Patrons are implored to enter the musical theatre incubator that is Aurora’s Paramount Theatre and be a part of this initial Success.
Paramount Theatre presents “The Secret of My Success” through March 29 at at 23 East Galena Boulevard, Aurora. More information and tickets are available here. Photos by Liz Lauren.