Last Thursday I took my friend Rose to see Toronto Youth Theatre’s production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Try as we might, we couldn’t get into the spirit of the show. It was packed with enthusiasm and energy (including nervous whispering backstage and roaring screams after the show finished) but the combination of lackluster sets and costumes coupled with the dated writing left us a bit disappointed.
TYT is a for-pay training programme for theatre novices aged 13-19 hoping to refine their craft and/or find a social group of like-minded youth. The participants audition to secure their spot under artistic director Neil Silcox’ tutelage and for their roles in the produced work.
The resulting show is a culmination of months of hard work and is warmly received by the actors’ family, friends, and other loved ones. As an outside audience member, however, Rose and I felt like the only two watchers with no connection to the performers in any way. The repeated whispers of “Who are they?!” as we entered the hall made us feel that we were intruding on a private recital.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a story of a man who climbs the corporate ladder by following some handy-dandy suggestions published in a book called… well you can probably guess the title by now! The musical turned 50 recently, and as director Neil Silcox mentioned in the playbill, should be taken lightheartedly. The gender roles are pretty ingrained, and the loving ingenue Rosemary (played by Emma Robson) fields neglect from her “company man” J. Pierrepoint Finch (played by Braedon Soltys) with loyalty and poise.
The set was a simple grey back wall with double pocket doors sliding open to reveal an elevator or pulling apart to imply a closet. Above the doors were projected images which coincided with the narration of the story or displayed the company logo. With everything vintage trending at the moment, I was expecting to see skinny ties and fitted suits. But the costumes were oversized, making the actors look like little people playing dress-up. Mad Men (and Women) it was not.
The show was great as a testament to the effort of the emerging talent pool of both the student performers and this company, and I look forward to seeing these budding performers shine in other productions.